The US has fined Japanese auto maker Toyota Motor $16.38 million for its tardiness in informing authorities about a dangerous defect in its vehicles, which led to the recall of nearly 2.3 million cars in January.
The amount sought by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) would be the "largest civil penalty ever assessed" against an auto maker by the auto safety agency, according to the US Department of Transportation.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said that NHTSA is seeking a civil penalty of $16.38 million from Toyota for failing to notify the agency of the "sticky pedal" defect for at least four months, despite its potential risk to consumers.
The agency is still investigating Toyota to determine if there are additional violations that warrant further penalties.
About 2.3 million vehicles in the US were recalled in late January for the sticky pedal defect.
In the US, auto makers are legally required to notify NHTSA within five business days, if the firm determines that a safety defect exists.
The Transport Department in a statement on Monday said the NHTSA learned through documents obtained from Toyota that the car maker knew of the sticky pedal defect since at least September 29, 2009.
"We now have proof that Toyota failed to live up to its legal obligations.
"Worse yet, they knowingly hid a dangerous defect for months from US 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," LaHood said.
NHTSA initiated a probe into Toyota recalls in February and asked the auto maker to turn over documents and explanations related to its adherence to US auto safety laws.
The preliminary estimate of the penalty was made after reviewing the documents provided by Toyota. Till now, the car maker has submitted over 70,000 pages of documents.
In the last three years, NHTSA's defect and compliance investigations have resulted in 524 recalls involving 23.5 million vehicles.