The recall will cost the Japanese automaker millions, but would be less costly than fully complying with regulations that require vehicles built after 2002 to have a child seat anchor system known as LATCH - lower anchorages and tethers for children.
Toyota will deactivate a switch in the pickups that shuts off the passenger-side air bag unless the vehicle senses that an adult is sitting on the seat. Disabling the switch means the passenger-side airbag will always deploy in case of a front-end accident, making it dangerous for children who are in the front seat at the time.
Children are at risk of injury or death from airbags, which is why child seats are not allowed in the front seats of vehicles that do not have the cut-off switch.
The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration rule also requires that there be a LATCH system in the front seat of the vehicles which have the cut-off switch. Toyota spokesman Bill Kwong told the News that there were engineering problems with installing such a system in the front seats of the 156,555 Tundras sold from model year 2003 to 2005.
Kwong said the 2006 Tundra deactivated the cut-off switch in order to comply with the regulation.
"We always recommend that child seats are used in the rear, as children are safest there," Kwong told the paper. The Tundra has a LATCH system in its backseat that complies with regulations. But one auto safety advocate criticized Toyota for how it is handling the problem.