When Toyota was slapped with a record breaking fine of $16.4 million back in April, it was clear that the U.S. government wasn’t done with the Japanese auto giant just yet. On Monday, the Transportation Department told Toyota just how much more delays in notifying the NHTSA about safety defects were going to cost, hitting the automaker with a new record fine of $32.4 million. This time it’s for the floor mat entrapment issue, which was deemed to be separate from the sticking accelerator issue, and for the steering defect in Toyota pickups and SUVs dating back to 2004. Both fines were levied to penalize Toyota for failure to disclose the defects in a timely manner.
The Los Angeles Times quotes Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood as saying, “I am pleased that Toyota agreed to pay the maximum possible penalty. I expect Toyota to work cooperatively in the future to ensure consumers’ safety.”
Toyota has taken a number of steps to ensure that such events never occur again. Their recently appointed safety officer, Steve St. Angelo, addressed the floor mat and steering defect problems as “legacy issues” that occurred prior to Toyota’s changes in North America. St. Angelo went on to say that, “North American operations now have a greater voice in making safety decisions, and we are taking appropriate actions whenever any issues emerge.”
There’s no doubt that the fallout from all this will be safer cars and more responsive automakers; still, I can’t help but think that Toyota’s been singled out for penalties by the DOT. Let’s not forget that the government’s investigation into the sudden acceleration phenomenon is ongoing, and probably won’t conclude until they find something else to fine the automaker for. There are other automakers whose delays in addressing safety defects led to the deaths of owners, but the DOT isn’t going after them. It seems to me that what’s fair and reasonable for Toyota should be fair and reasonable for other automakers as well.