Car manufacturer Toyota has agreed to pay a staggering $1.2 billion to avoid prosecution for covering up severe safety problems with “unintended acceleration,” according to court documents, and continuing to make cars with parts the FBI said Toyota “knew were deadly.”
A deferred prosecution agreement, filed today, forced Toyota to “admit” that it “misled U.S. consumers by concealing and making deceptive statements about two safety related issues affecting its vehicles, each of which caused a type of unintended acceleration.”
Toyota “put sales over safety and profit over principle,” according to FBI Assistant Director George Venizelos.
“The disregard Toyota had for the safety of the public is outrageous,” Venizelos said. “Not only did Toyota fail to recall cars with problem parts, they continued to manufacture new cars with the same parts they already knew were deadly. When media reports arose of Toyota hiding defects, they emphatically denied what they knew was true, assuring consumers that their cars were safe and reliable… More than speeding cars or a major fine, the ultimate tragedy has been the unwitting consumers who died behind the wheel of Toyota vehicles.”
ABC News first reported the potential dangers of unintended acceleration in an investigation broadcast in November 2009. The report said hundreds of Toyota customers were in “rebellion” after a series of accidents were apparently caused by the unintended acceleration. Two months before, Highway Patrolman Mark Saylor and three members of his family had been killed after the accelerator in his Lexus had become stuck on an incompatible floor mat. Saylor was able to call 911 while his car was speeding over 100 miles per hour and explain his harrowing ordeal right up until the crash that ended his life.
At the time of the first ABC News report, Toyota attempted to assure its drivers that the incidents of sudden acceleration without warning were solely caused by floor mats becoming stuck on the gas pedals or driver error. But already other customers were complaining of similar problems with sudden acceleration, but some had nothing to do with the floor mats and they maintained they weren’t to blame either.
ABC News published dozens of reports in the following months as Toyota said it investigated and announced massive recalls to address the accelerators being stuck under floor mats – repeatedly assuring drivers that the problem had been taken care of. But today Toyota admitted that the recalls did not cover all the cars they knew were in danger and said that they also concealed another cause of sudden acceleration they had found during their investigations – “sticky” pedals, which refers to the accelerator getting stuck partially depressed.
In December 2009, the court records showed the company responded to “media accusations that it was continuing to hide defects in its vehicles” by publishing a statement on Toyota’s website saying the company “has absolutely not minimized public awareness of any defect or issue with respect to its vehicles [and] [a]ny suggestion to the contrary is wrong and borders on irresponsibility.”
Toyota only announced the issue with the “sticky” pedals, along with another massive recall, just minutes before an ABC News report on “World News” in January 2010 told the story of one driver whose Toyota Avalon took off suddenly on the highway.