[JURIST] The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) [official website] will seek a record civil penalty of $16.375 million [press release] against Toyota Motor Corporation [corporate website] for a four-month delay in notifying the agency about a problem with "sticky" gas pedals in various car models, US Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood [official profile] announced Monday. The fine, which would become the largest ever assessed against a car maker, was announced based on a preliminary review of extensive corporate documents attained through an investigation [press release] launched by the NHTSA in February. Toyota will have two weeks to appeal the fine, but, if further defect-related violations are discovered, the NHTSA may increase the fine. NHTSA statutes [text, PDF] require that a vehicle manufacturer notify the NHTSA within five days of discovering a safety defect and launch a recall. The NHTSA has evidence that Toyota knew of the defect in late September, but notification and a recall were not launched until January.
Toyota has been under federal scrutiny [NHTSA materials] since December, and has conducted three recalls. The automaker has recalled more than eight million vehicles and is facing hundreds of private lawsuits. In March, the NHTSA enlisted the help of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and NASA [official websites] to conduct a 15-month investigation into the sources of recent safety defects. The agency has faced a hearing [transcript, PDF] before the House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce [official website] and strong criticism [FOXNews video] regarding the effectiveness of its recent investigations into car safety defects. Previously, the largest fine assessed by the NHTSA was of $1 million [CNN report] against General Motors for failing to conduct a timely recall in 2004. At the time, the NHTSA was also criticized [CCR report] for appearing to be lenient on the American vehicle manufacturer.