The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced yesterday that it will be seeking $16.4 million in fines against Toyota for failing to notify authorities about the automaker's sticky accelerator problem.
"We now have proof that Toyota failed to live up to its legal obligations," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement. "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."
On Sept. 29, 2009, the automaker notified their distributors in Europe and Canada of a repair procedure for the accelerator pedals. The administration says documents prove Toyota knew American drivers were experiencing the same problems, but did nothing.
By law, auto makers have five business days to notify the transportation administration once they are aware of a safety defect.
Spokespersons from Toyota said they have not received direct communication from transportation authorities.
"While we have not yet received their letter, we understand that NHTSA has taken a position on this recall," Toyota officials said in a statement. "We have already taken a number of important steps to improve our communications with regulators and customers on safety-related matters as part of our strengthened overall commitment to quality assurance. These include the appointment of a new Chief Quality Officer for North America and a greater role for the region in making safety-related decisions."
In February, the transportation agency launched a major investigation into sudden unintended acceleration problems. Engineers from NASA who have experience with computer controlled electronic systems, electromagnetic interference and software integrity have been employed to aid in the investigation.