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The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration has announced that it will seek $16.375 million, the maximum allowed civil fine, against Toyota for failing to notify the federal government in a timely manner after learning its vehicles had problems with unintended acceleration.

According to over 70,000 Toyota documents examined by the NHTSA, the company knew as early as last September that its vehicles were having problems with sticky accelerators, but neglected to tell U.S. consumers. Meanwhile, it began fixing the problems in 31 European countries and Canada.

“We now have proof that Toyota failed to live up to its legal obligations,” Mr. LaHood said in a statement. “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. For those reasons, we are seeking the maximum penalty possible under current laws.” –New York Times

The NHTSA is seeking the maximum penalty…but is it enough? As Joan Claybrook, former head of NHTSA, testified during the Congressional Toyota hearings in February, the NHTSA can’t exact criminal penalties against car companies when they willfully place consumers in danger, as Toyota has done by concealing evidence that its vehicles had major safety defects. Other agencies, including the FDA and the SEC, have the power to do this; the NHTSA should also. The $16 million maximum NHTSA fine amounts to chump change for companies of Toyota’s size and profit margins. For those who have lost friends and family members to accidents caused by defective Toyotas, Claybrook has said, lawsuits are the only recourse. But even lawsuits can only ever exact financial penalties, which do not punish the people ultimately responsible for the decision-making that has led to these accidents, injuries and deaths.

If you have experienced any problem whatsoever with a Toyota vehicle, please report it immediately to the NHTSA. If you were injured in an accident involving a defective Toyota, contact attorney Mike Ferrara at The Ferrara Law Firm to find out more about your rights.

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