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Consumer

Toyota To Pay $32M For Delayed Safety Warnings

Automaker OKs fines without admitting fault
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(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

TORRANCE (CBS) — Toyota Motor Corp. will pay $32.425 million in penalties stemming from allegations that it failed to notify federal authorities in a timely fashion about safety defects, including a sudden-acceleration problem that led to a fatal crash in Santee that killed a CHP officer and three members of his family,  U.S. officials said Monday.

“Safety is our top priority and we take our responsibility to protect consumers seriously,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said. “I am pleased that Toyota agreed to pay the maximum possible penalty and I expect Toyota to work cooperatively in the future to ensure consumers’ safety.”

The company agreed to the fines without admitting any wrongdoing.

Toyota will pay the maximum fines in two cases, the first stemming from Toyota’s recall of nearly 5 million vehicles with accelerator pedals that could become entrapped by floor mats. According to federal officials, the automaker initially recalled 55,000 floor mats in 2007.

But on Aug. 28, 2009, CHP Officer Mark Saylor, 45; his wife, Cleofe, 45; his daughter, Mahala, 13; and his brother-in-law, Chris Lastrella, 38, were killed in a crash in Santee.

Police said someone in the 2009 Lexus ES 350 called 911 just after 6:30 p.m. to report that the car’s accelerator was stuck. The car was a loaner because Saylor had dropped off his regular vehicle for service.

Witnesses say the Lexus was going about 100 mph on northbound state Route 125 when it slammed into the rear of a Ford Explorer, plowed over a curb and went through a fence before hitting an embankment and going airborne.

After the crash, Toyota recalled 3.8 million Toyota and Lexus vehicles, and later added another 1.1 million vehicles to the recall list.

According to the Transportation Department, federal investigators determined that replacing the floor mats was insufficient, and the accelerator pedal needed to be redesigned. In February, an investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration determined that Toyota had not reported the safety defect to federal regulators within five days, as required by law, according to the DOT.

The second fine of $16.050 million stems from an investigation into Toyota’s handling of a safety defect in several models that could result in the loss of steering control. According to federal authorities, Toyota recalled Hilux trucks in Japan in 2004 to replace steering-relay rods that were prone to fatigue cracking and breaking, but the automaker insisted the problem was
restricted to vehicles in Japan.

In 2005, the company informed federal officials that the relay-rod problem was present in U.S. vehicles, and about 1 million vehicles were recalled, according to the DOT.

The NHTSA concluded that Toyota had failed in that case to notify federal regulators about the problem within five days.

“Automakers are required to to report any safety defects to NHTSA swiftly, and we expect them to do so,” NHTSA Administrator David Strickland said. “NHTSA acknowledges Toyota’s efforts to make improvements to its safety culture, and our agency will continue to hold all automakers accountable for defects to protect consumers’ safety.”

The latest fines bring to $48.8 million the amount of penalties paid by Toyota this year in relation to the various recalls, according to federal officials.

(©2010 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)

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