CHICAGO – Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Tuesday that he wouldn’t be surprised if a review of documents from Toyota Motor Corp. uncovered additional safety lapses at the Japanese automaker.

LaHood said Toyota was “safety deaf” and that the Japanese automaker made a “huge mistake” by not disclosing safety problems with gas pedals on some of its most popular models sooner. A day earlier, the Department of Transportation charged that Toyota failed to alert regulators to its safety problems fast enough and announced it would face a record $16.4 million fine.

Documents obtained from the automaker show that Toyota knew of the problem with the sticking gas pedals in late September but did not issue a recall until late January, LaHood said Monday. The sticking pedals involved 2.3 million vehicles.

On Tuesday, LaHood said, “This is the first thing that we have found. It may not be the last thing. It would not surprise me if we discovered other information.”

Under federal law, automakers must notify the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration within five days of determining that a safety defect exists and must promptly conduct a recall.

Toyota has recalled more than 6 million vehicles in the U.S. and more than 8 million worldwide because of acceleration problems in multiple models and braking issues in the Prius hybrid.

The government said documents provided by Toyota showed the automaker had known about the sticky pedal defect since at least Sept. 29, 2009, when it issued repair procedures to distributors in 31 European countries and Canada to address complaints of sticking pedals, sudden increases in engine RPM and sudden vehicle acceleration.

The DOT said the documents also show Toyota knew that owners in the U.S. had experienced the same problems.

The Japanese automaker was still weighing its options Tuesday about whether to accept or contest the fine. The proposed fine is the most the government could levy, but further penalties are possible under continuing federal investigations.

Toyota’s fine of $16.375 million is the largest ever levied on an automaker and dwarfs the previous record: In 2004, General Motors paid a $1 million fine for responding too slowly on a recall of nearly 600,000 vehicles over windshield wiper failure.


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