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Documents Show Toyota Knew of Problems in '06

Apr 9, 2010 | Parker Waichman LLP

Documents show Toyota knew about problems with floor mats and accelerator pedals that could cause dangerous unintended acceleration in 2006, more than three years before it finally issued recalls to fix the problems. According to the Associated Press, the documents, dated March 24, were submitted to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Earlier this week, the NHTSA announced that it would seek $16.375 million -the maximum penalty allowed by law – from Toyota for failing to promptly notify the government about the pedal issues. According to a Department of Transportation press release, the 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 U.S. were experiencing the same problems, the statement said.

Since last fall, Toyota has recalled more than 8 million vehicles worldwide for problems involving sudden acceleration. Toyota has blamed the speed control issues on defective floor mats and faulty gas pedals. In the U.S., five deaths have occurred in auto accidents involving the unintended acceleration of a Toyota or Lexus vehicle. Last August, a California Highway Patrol trooper and three members of his family were killed in such a crash in San Diego County, just south of Orange. At least 47 other fatalities over the past decade alleged to be the result of Toyota unintended acceleration crashes are currently being investigated by the NHTSA.

The documents detailed by the Associated Press show that Toyota learned of floor mat issues is February 2006, and about flaws in accelerator pedals five months later. The first report was from a model year 2005 Prius hybrid “regarding floor mat interference with an accelerator pedal,” according to the documents, which the carmaker sent to the safety agency.

According to The Associated Press, Toyota didn’t act on the first sticky pedal report because the “problem was not reproduced and no other similar” reports were received. Instead, the documents said “Toyota decided to monitor the situation in the field.”

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