NHTSA seeking a $16.4 million fine from Toyota for recall scandals

The NHTSA is looking to fine Toyota $16.375 million – the maximum fine permitted – for the scandals related to recalls – more specifically the unintended acceleration recalls.

The NHTSA claim that they have evidence that Toyota has known about the unintended acceleration issues since September 29, 2009. Manufacturers are legally obliged to report to the NHTSA within five days of determining that a safety defect exists. However, Toyota didn’t start admitting issues until October, and an actual recall didn’t come around until late November. Therefore, Toyota had broken the law, and the NHTSA has the authority to fine them. Toyota has been sent a notification letter April 5th, and they received it the same day. Toyota says that they are currently considering their response, as they can either pay up the fine or dispute the decision.

This is by far not the end of problems for Toyota though, as the NHTSA is still running investigations on this issue, with over 70,000 pages of documents submitted by Toyota, as well as the Corolla and Matrix stalling issue. There are also plenty of unsettled lawsuits and the long-term image damage that this has done to them.

Press Release (NHTSA):

Secretary LaHood Announces DOT is Seeking Maximum Civil Penalty from Toyota

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today announced that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is seeking the maximum civil penalty of $16.375 million against Toyota Motor Corporation for failing to notify the auto safety agency of the dangerous “sticky pedal” defect for at least four months, despite knowing of the potential risk to consumers. Approximately 2.3 million vehicles in the U.S. were recalled in late January for the sticky pedal defect. The penalty being sought against Toyota would be the largest civil penalty ever assessed against an auto manufacturer by NHTSA.

Auto manufacturers are legally obligated to notify NHTSA within five business days if they determine that a safety defect exists. NHTSA learned through documents obtained from Toyota that the company knew of the sticky pedal defect since at least September 29, 2009. That day, Toyota issued repair procedures to their distributors in 31 European countries and Canada to address complaints of sticky accelerator pedals, sudden increases in engine RPM, and sudden vehicle acceleration. The documents also show that Toyota was aware that consumers in the United States were experiencing the same problems.

“We now have proof that Toyota failed to live up to its legal obligations,” said Secretary LaHood. “Worse yet, they knowingly hid a dangerous defect for months from U.S. officials and did not take action to protect millions of drivers and their families. For those reasons, we are seeking the maximum penalty possible under current laws.”

Under NHTSA’s current authority, the maximum possible civil penalty for related violations is $16.375 million. The penalty announced today relates specifically to the “sticky pedal” defect and NHTSA is still investigating Toyota to determine if there are additional violations that warrant further penalties.

“Safety is our top priority and we will vigorously pursue companies that put consumers at risk,” said NHTSA Administrator David Strickland. “We will continue to hold Toyota accountable for any additional violations we find in our ongoing investigation.”

On February 16, NHTSA launched an investigation into the timeliness and scope of the three recent Toyota recalls and required the automaker to turn over documents and explanations related to its adherence to U.S. auto safety laws. NHTSA made a preliminary determination on the fine announced today based on a review of documents Toyota has provided. To date, Toyota has submitted more than 70,000 pages of documents, which NHTSA officials are continuing to review.

NHTSA has the most active defect investigation program in the world, opening or closing an investigation almost every week. Over the last three years, NHTSA’s defect and compliance investigations have resulted in 524 recalls involving 23.5 million vehicles.

Press Release (Toyota):

Toyota’s Statement on NHTSA Penalty Announcement

Toyota Motor Corporation (TMC) received notice from NHTSA on April 5 (in the United States) that NHTSA is seeking a civil penalty. TMC is now considering its response. Toyota has and will continue to practice its philosophy of satisfying consumers with high quality vehicles that are safe and reliable, and responding to consumer feedback with honesty and integrity.

Source: NHTSA, Toyota

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