By Peter Whoriskey
Monday, April 19, 2010; A12
Toyota has agreed to pay a $16.4 million government fine for waiting at least four months before notifying safety officials about vehicles with a "sticky pedal" defect, a senior Transportation Department official said Sunday night.
The sanction represents the largest financial penalty imposed by the U.S. government on an automaker.
"By paying the full civil penalty, Toyota is accepting responsibility for hiding this safety defect from NHTSA in violation of the law," the official said.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced two weeks ago that it was seeking the fine against Toyota, and the automaker has until Monday to accept or contest the penalty.
The fine could increase if the government's ongoing investigation of runaway Toyotas turns up violations related to other defects, officials said. Regulators said they are still reviewing 70,000 pages of Toyota documents that they have received during the inquiry.
Although the cause of unintended acceleration is a matter of debate, the automaker and safety regulators agree that sticky pedals were behind at least some of the incidents.
The law limits the proposed fine, which is relatively small for an automaker that reported revenue of more than $200 billion last year, consumer advocates said. Among the proposed legislative reforms are measures that would raise the amount the government can fine automakers.