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Toyota Motor Corporation has agreed to pay a record US$17.35 million ($16.49 million) fine for failing to report a safety defect to the US federal government “in a timely manner” without admitting to any violation of its obligations under the US Safety Act.

The US Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced that the Toyota fine represents the highest civil penalty ever paid to the NHTSA for violations stemming from a recall.

According to US federal law, all car makers are required to notify the NHTSA that a safety defect exists or that a vehicle is not in compliance with federal motor vehicle safety standards within five business days of determining the issue and must promptly conduct a recall.

In a statement, the NHTSA said in early 2012 its Office of Defects Investigation began noticing a trend in floor mat pedal entrapment in 2010 Lexus RX350 models in vehicle owner questionnaires and early warning reporting data.

In May, the NHTSA contacted Toyota regarding the trend, and one month later Toyota advised the NHTSA it was aware of 63 alleged incidents of possible floor mat pedal entrapment in 2010 Lexus RX350s since 2009, with Toyota technicians reporting that certain alleged incidents of unwanted acceleration had been caused by floor mat pedal entrapment. In June, the Japanese manufacturer advised the NHTSA that it would conduct a recall of 154,036 Lexus RX350 and RX450h vehicles to address the floor mat pedal entrapment issue.

Lexus RX 450h

NHTSA Administrator David Strickland said manufacturers reporting safety defects in a timely manner was critical to safety. “Every moment of delay has the potential to lead to deaths or injuries on our nation’s highways.”

US Transportation secretary Ray LaHood reaffirmed that safety is the department’s highest priority, saying, “With today’s announcement, I expect Toyota to rigorously reinforce its commitment to adhering to United States safety regulations.”

Toyota North America’s chief quality officer Ray Tanguay said Toyota is dedicated to the safety of its customers. “We agreed to this settlement in order to avoid a time-consuming dispute and to focus fully on our shared commitment with NHTSA to keep drivers safe.”

Along with the fine, Toyota has also agreed to make internal changes to its quality assurance and review of safety-related issues in the United States, and to improve its ability to take into account the possible consequences of potential safety-related defects.

According to the NHTSA, the last time Toyota faced civil penalties in the US was in 2010 when the car maker agreed to pay US$48.8 million ($46.4 million) as a result of three separate investigations into its handling of recalls for pedal entrapment, sticky pedals, and a steering relay rod.