DOT Will Seek Record Fine From Toyota Over Gas Pedal DebacleApr 5, 2010 | Parker Waichman LLP
Federal regulators said today that Toyota failed to promptly notify the government about defective gas pedals that could cause its vehicles to unexpectedly accelerate. The Department of Transportation announced it will seek a $16.375 million from Toyota - the largest penalty allowed by law.
Auto manufacturers are legally obligated to notify the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) within five business days if they determine that a safety defect exists.
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.
“We now have proof that Toyota failed to live up to its legal obligations,” LaHood said. “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.”
Since last fall, Toyota has recalled more than 8 million vehicles worldwide for problems involving sudden acceleration. Toyota and the NHTSA have 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 fine would be the largest civil penalty ever issued to an automaker by the government. Toyota has two weeks to either contest or accept the fine.