NHTSA to Seek Maximum Penalty of $16 Million for Toyota Sticky Pedal Defect

(LOS ANGELES, April 5, 2010) – The U.S. Dept. of Transportation today announced that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) will seek the maximum civil penalty of $16.375 million against Toyota Motor Corporation for the second-largest U.S. automaker’s failure to notify the auto safety agency of the “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 multi-million penalty being sought against Toyota for a single violation would be the largest civil penalty ever assessed against an auto manufacturer by NHTSA.  The agency is still investigating whether the Japanese automaker committed more violations that may warrant more fines, the agency said.
NHTSA said in a news release that auto manufacturers are legally obligated to tell NHTSA within five business days if they determine that a safety defect exists.  NHTSA, through a review of documents obtained from Toyota, that the company knew of the “sticky pedal” defect since late September 2009.
The news release also noted that Toyota issued repair procedures on Sept. 29, 2009 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 that NHTSA reviewed also showed that Toyota was aware that U.S. consumers were experiencing the same problems.  
“We now have proof that Toyota failed to live up to its legal obligations,” said U.S. DOT Secretary Ray LaHood.  “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 news release stated.
Toyota reacted to the announcement by stating, “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 related news, the National Academy of Sciences and NASA will look at Toyota electronic throttles in two separate studies of unintended acceleration across the auto industry, according to news reports.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration scientists and experts from the National Academy will examine the broader issue raised by Congress during recent hearings with Toyota.  The hearings follow the auto manufacturer’s multiple recalls of more than 8 million Toyota and Lexus vehicles across the country since last fall.
NASA scientists who have experience in complex problem solving, as well as expertise in electronics, electromagnetic interference, software and related topics, will be working on the project.
The studies will follow the NHTSA review of Toyota electronic throttles which is expected to be finished by late summer.  Conclusions would lead the agency to a decision about whether a formal investigation of Toyota throttles is needed.
NHTSA has worked with NASA previously, studying electronic stability control and airbags.
The National Academy of Sciences’ industry is expected to take about 18 months to complete.   
Toyota also has asked the engineering consultant Exponent to review its throttles.  Preliminary findings revealed no problems, according to Toyota.
Toyota has recalled more than 8 million vehicles in the U.S. for a variety of problems, including floor mats, sticky gas pedals, steering and components.  Toyota drivers may go online to find information regarding Toyota’s recalls at Toyota.com/Recall, call Toyota at 1-800-331-4331, or the Lexus Customer Assistance Center at 1-800-255-3987.  Toyota information is at http://www.toyota.com and http://www.lexus.com
Consumers may also call the NHTSA vehicle safety hotline 1-888-327-4236 or file an online safety complaint with NHTSA

Media Contacts

Elaine Beno
(714) 885-2324