Toyota Faces Maximum Fine Over Gas Pedal Problems

The federal government is going after Toyota for the way it handled defective gas pedals. According to the Associated Press, the Department of Transportation will seek $16.375 million -the maximum penalty allowed by law – from Toyota for failing to promptly notify the government about the pedals.

Since last fall, Toyota has recalled more than 8 million vehicles worldwide for problems involving sudden acceleration. Toyota and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (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.

According to the Associated Press, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood says evidence shows that Toyota knew of the problem with sticking gas pedals in late September but did not issue a recall until late January. Auto manufacturers are legally obligated to notify 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.”

The fine would be the largest civil penalty ever issued to an automaker by the government, the Associated Press said.

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