Toyota did not issue a steering rod recall in the U.S. until almost a year after the recall in Japan, when it acknowledged that the rods were defective. The U.S. recall affected older models of the Toyota T100 pickup truck (model years 1993-98), Toyota 4Runner (1989-95) and the Toyota Truck (1989-95).
Levi Stewart's accident took place in 2007 on a country road outside Fairfield, Idaho. Levi's father Michael was one of the volunteer firemen who responded to the scene.
"When we got there, the devastation was just more than you could handle," said Michael Stewart.
Three months after Levi's death, a long-delayed recall notice from Toyota arrived in the mail at the Stewart home. In the worst case, the notice said, the steering relay rod might fracture, causing a loss of vehicle steering control and thus increasing the possibility of a crash.
"That immediately explained how the wreck happened," said Michael Stewart. "I was just shocked. How could they wait so long to send out a recall on something so important?"
"Automakers are required to report any safety defects to NHTSA swiftly, and we expect them to do so," said NHTSA Administrator David Strickland. "NHTSA acknowledges Toyota's efforts to make improvements to its safety culture, and our agency will continue to hold all automakers accountable for defects to protect consumers' safety."
In a statement released yesterday, Toyota said it agreed to pay the fines "without admitting to any violation of its obligations under the U.S. Safety Act", and that recall decisions are no longer being made solely by officials in Japan.
"As we have demonstrated in recent months, our North American operations now have a greater voice in making safety decisions, and we are taking appropriate action whenever any issues emerge," said Steve St. Angelo, Toyota's Chief Quality Officer for North America. "These agreements are an opportunity to turn the page to an even more constructive relationship with NHTSA and focus even more on listening to our customers and meeting their high expectations for safe and reliable vehicles," said St. Angelo.
However, Toyota has not yet closed the door on the steering rod relay issue. This July, Toyota confirmed that it is the subject of a criminal investigation by a federal grand jury in New York, which has subpoenaed documents about possible steering rod defects.
Toyota spokeswoman Celeste Migliore said a subpoena was issued on June 29 for documents "related to defective, broken and/or fractured steering relay rods." "[Toyota Motor Corp.] and its subsidiaries intend to cooperate with the investigation," said Migliore.