The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is seeking the maximum fine of more than $16 million against Toyota Motor Corporation for remaining silent about acceleration problems four months even though it allegedly knew about its “sticky pedal” issues, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced Monday.

“We now have proof that Toyota failed to live up to its legal obligations,” alleged U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “Worse yet, they knowingly hid a dangerous defect for months from U.S. 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.”

Following anecdotes of out-of-control Toyotas and a report last fall in the Los Angeles Times detailing acceleration problems in the carmaker's vehicles, the company, which has its U.S. headquarters in Torrance, recalled about 2.3 million vehicles nationwide for so-called sticky pedal problems.

Under the law carmakers must tell NHTSA within five days when they know of a safety defect in their vehicles, according to the DOT.

NHTSA claims it has obtained Toyota documents proving the auto maker knew of the defect since at least late September. On the 29th of that month it issued repair procedures to dealers in Europe and Canada pertaining to sticky pedal issues, according to the DOT statement.

“We will continue to hold Toyota accountable for any additional violations we find in our ongoing investigation,” NHTSA administrator David Strickland stated.

As we reported last month, Los Angeles could become ground zero for Toyota's woes as a federal judge considers consolidating about 200 “sudden-acceleration” lawsuits against the carmaker into one class-action case that would be tried in L.A.

LA Weekly