16.4 Million Reasons Why it Ain’t Over Yet for Toyota SUA

Toyota now has two weeks to decide if it will accept or contest the $16.4 million fine levied yesterday by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to resolve Timeliness Query 10-002, regarding its sticky accelerator recall.

On February 16, the agency opened three recall probes – Recall Query 10-003, which examined whether Toyota had too narrowly defined the scope of its recalls, and Timeliness Queries 10-001 and 10-002. The agency never publicly posted any documents on these TQs. They were referenced in the Opening Resume of RQ 10-003. (SRS was still waiting for a response to our FOIA request for the TQ documents when the fine was announced.) They examine whether Toyota met its statutory obligation to report a defect to the agency within five days of determining a defect or non-compliance.

So far, Toyota has issued a non-response response to the news of the fine:

“We have not yet received their letter, we understand that NHTSA has taken a position on this recall. We have already taken a number of important steps to improve our communications with regulators and customers on safety-related matters as part of our strengthened overall commitment to quality assurance. These include the appointment of a new Chief Quality Officer for North America and a greater role for the region in making safety-related decisions.”

Sixteen million and change is slap on the wrist to a company with billions of cash reserves, but it is the largest monetary penalty NHTSA could impose on the automaker – and we’re glad to see any government agency get back their regulatory mojo after eight moribund years of the Bush administration.

“People need to remember: as NHTSA and Toyota have both acknowledged, sticking accelerator pedals have nothing to do with Sudden Unintended Acceleration,” says Sean Kane president of SRS. “In fact, owners have complained to NHTSA about experiencing SUA incidents after getting the sticky accelerator pedal recall fix.”

The shim-sham, as we like to call it, is merely a distraction from the real issue.

We’re also very interested in seeing if NHTSA will take Toyota back to the woodshed for failing to initiate its floor mat recall in a timely fashion. But let’s keep our eyes on the prize, folks: we need Toyota to identify the other root causes that can’t be explained by floor mats and driver error. Punishing Toyota doesn’t do much to resolve the financial woes and real safety concerns of drivers who are stuck with these vehicles.

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