'Sticky Pedal' Debacle Could Cost Toyota Up to $16.375 Million

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood recently 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 Sept. 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,” 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.”

Under NHTSA’s current authority, the maximum possible civil penalty for related violations is $16.375 million. The penalty 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 Feb. 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.

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