DOT, Dept. of Justice holding automaker's feet to the fire
Today, the Department of Justice charged Toyota with defrauding consumers by issuing misleading statements about two safety issues that caused unintended acceleration in some of its vehicles. At the same time, the Department of Justice announced a deferred prosecution agreement with the automaker, under which the company admits that it misled U.S. consumers. DOT worked closely with the Department of Justice to help achieve this outcome.
The agreement--subject to judicial approval--requires Toyota to pay a $1.2 billion penalty, the largest of its kind ever imposed on an automotive company. It also imposes on the company an independent monitor to review and assess policies, practices, and procedures relating to safety-related public statements and reporting obligations.
As U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said, “When car owners get behind the wheel, they have a right to expect that their vehicle is safe. If any part of the automobile turns out to have safety issues, the car company has a duty to be upfront about them, to fix them quickly, and to immediately tell the truth about the problem and its scope. Toyota violated that basic compact."
I couldn't agree more. And I echo the Attorney General's message that, "Other car companies should not repeat Toyota’s mistake."
Attorney General Eric Holder with Secretary Foxx; credit Susan Walsh, AP
At the Department of Transportation, protecting the American people as they move about the country is--and always has been--our number one priority.
When the traveling public is put at risk of injury or worse, we follow the evidence; to find the problem if there is one; to ensure it gets fixed; and to take steps so it never happens again. It’s a responsibility we treat as a matter of life-and-death. Because it is.
That's why, five years ago, we began pushing Toyota to recall vehicles for problems with unintended acceleration. We never wavered in our commitment to uncovering the truth, to ensuring that Toyota lived up to the level of safety we expect of them.
We harnessed the best technology and data available to us. We stalked the evidence. And we identified the problem despite what we now know were overwhelming obstacles. Obstacles that, in some cases, were put in our way on purpose –not to help our investigation, but to hinder it.
And we didn't stop there; we held Toyota responsible for failing to act quickly on this and other recalls at the time, levying record fines of more than $66 million dollars.
Today's action by DOJ is another crucial step to hold Toyota accountable, and it is proof that, when it comes to jeopardizing safety on our roads, we hold those accountable who need to be held accountable.
I hope it sends a powerful message to all manufacturers to put safety first – and that if they conceal information or mislead NHTSA on issues involving safety defects, they will face serious consequences. If this tragic and disappointing chapter has a legacy, let it be that.