Toyota saga an example of dangers posed by defective vehicles in South Florida car accidents

The federal government announced Monday that Toyota will face the largest civil penalty every imposed on a vehicle manufacturer following a series of recalls involving vehicle defects.

Motorists often do not consider the possibility of a defective vehicle contributing to South Florida car accidents. But statistics continue to show that car makers are among the worst offenders when it comes to marketing dangerous or defective products to consumers. A defect, such as faulty brakes or a defective gas pedal, may cause the accident. In other cases, where an airbag or seat belt fails to function properly, a defect may increase the risk of serious injury.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will seek a $16.375 million fine against Toyota for failing to notify the agency of the dangerous “sticky pedal” defect for at least four months, despite knowing of the risk to consumers. About 2.3 million Toyota vehicles were recalled in January because of sticking gas pedals.

The fine would be the largest ever levied against an auto manufacturer, and the largest the cited violations would permit under current law.

Auto manufacturers are legally required to notify NHTSA within 5 business days if they determine a safety defect exists. However, the government determined through documents that Toyota knew of the defects since at least September 2009 when the company issued repair procedures to 31 European countries and Canada.

“We now have proof that Toyota failed to live up to its legal obligations,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said. “Worse yet, they knowingly hid a dangerous defect for months from U.S. officials and did not take action to protect millions of drivers and their families.”

The announced fine is in connection with the “sticky pedal” recall; the government continues to investigate Toyota to determine if there are additional violations that warrant further penalties.

“Safety is our top priority and we will vigorously pursue companies that put consumers at risk,” said NHTSA Administrator David Strickland. “We will continue to hold Toyota accountable for any additional violations we find in our ongoing investigation.”

Toyota has issued a number of recalls in recent months, including:

  • 3.8 million vehicles in September 2009 because of a floor mat issue that could cause the accelerator to get stuck.
  • The January 2010 recall for sticking gas pedals, involving a number of popular models, including the RAV4, Corolla, Camry and Highlander.
  • A recall of 437,000 Prius to fix braking issues in February 2010.

Defective vehicles continue to pose a significant danger to motorists in South Florida. During the past three years, NHTSA has issued 524 recalls involving 23.5 million vehicles.