US welcomes Toyota to pay maximum civil penalty

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U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on Monday welcomed Toyota Motor Corporation's agreement to pay a 16.375-million-dollar fine over the recent massive recalls.

"By failing to report known safety problems as it is required to do under the law, Toyota put consumers at risk," said LaHood in a statement.

"I am pleased that Toyota has accepted responsibility for violating its legal obligations to report any defects promptly," said the U.S. secretary. "We are continuing to investigate whether the company has lived up to all its disclosure obligations."

Toyota said in a statement that it agreed to the penalty "to avoid a protracted dispute and possible litigation," but denied the government's allegation that it had violated the law.

"We believe we made a good faith effort to investigate this condition and develop an appropriate countermeasure," said Toyota. "We have acknowledged that we could have done a better job of sharing relevant information within our global operations and outside the company, but we did not try to hide a defect to avoid dealing with a safety problem."

The 16.375-million-dollar fine for Toyota is the largest civil penalty ever assessed against an auto manufacturer by U.S. regulators.

This penalty relates specifically to both the "sticky pedal" and "slow to return pedal" defects, which resulted in Toyota's recall of approximately 2.3 million vehicles in the United States in late January.

The company has recalled more than 6 million vehicles in the United States, and more than 8 million worldwide for flaws that may cause intended acceleration problems.

Automakers are required to notify U.S. regulators of a possible defect within five business days.

But U.S. officials said that Toyota failed to notify the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the U.S. auto safety agency, of the dangerous "sticky pedal" defect for at least four months, despite knowing of the potential risk to consumers.

NHTSA officials said they are continuing to review Toyota's statements and more than 120,000 pages of Toyota documents to determine whether the company has complied with all its legal obligations.

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