Toyota has been fined over $32 million in new fines, which is the maximum allowed under law, because it failed to notify federal regulators of two safety defects in its vehicles. The defects were sudden acceleration and steering issues.
Of the $32 million fine, over $16 million was imposed because the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration discovered Toyota was late in notifying the government that its accelerators could get trapped in floor mats and cause vehicles to accelerate uncontrollably. Toyota recalled 55,000 floor mats in September 2007, but it didn’t make any comprehensive recalls until October 2009, when a fatal crash in California due to a jammed gas pedal received a lot of media attention. Under federal law, car makers are required to notify regulators of any safety defects within five days.
The other $16 million fine was due to Toyota’s improperly delaying a recall of nearly one million trucks and SUVs. The steering relay rods in those vehicles were found to be prone to break under stress. Toyota recalled the vehicles in Japan in October 2004 and in the U.S. in September 2005. Toyota officials claimed that although the recall was needed in Japan, it was unnecessary in the U.S. because driving conditions were different in Japan, and because it had no reports of problems in the U.S. However, information has recently surfaced that shows Toyota did have knowledge of the steering rod defect in U.S. vehicles.
Toyota has agreed to pay the fines without admitting any violation of law. A federal criminal investigation into Toyota’s actions regarding the steering rods is now underway.