Washington, D.C. – The U.S. government is seeking the maximum civil penalty of US$16.375 million against Toyota for failing to notify it of its “sticky pedal” defect, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has announced. In a separate release, Toyota Canada said that Canada did not receive repair procedures on September 29, 2009 to address complaints of sticky accelerator pedals and sudden vehicle acceleration, contrary to LaHood’s assertion that 31 European countries and Canada received the procedures.

LaHood said that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) will seek the penalty from Toyota 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. The penalty being sought 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 said that it learned through documents obtained from Toyota that the company knew of the sticky pedal defect since at least September 29, 2009, a day on which NHTSA said that 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. Toyota Canada refutes the statement. NHTSA also said that the documents show that Toyota was aware that consumers in the U.S. 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 these reasons, we are seeking the maximum penalty possible under current laws.”

NHTSA said it is still investigating Toyota to determine if there are additional violations that warrant further penalties.

On February 16, 2010, NHTSA launched an investigation into the timeliness and scope of the three Toyota recalls and required the automaker to turn over documents and explanations related to its adherence to U.S. auto safety laws. To date, Toyota has submitted over 70,000 pages of documents, which NHTSA officials are continuing to review. The federal agency made a preliminary determination regarding the civil penalty based on a review of the documents provided.

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