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The potential gap between the time of discovery of the defect and the time of recall in 2005 has led to an investigation by the National Traffic Safety Administration. The investigation may result in fines, such as the $16.4 million dollars Toyota was recently fined due to the investigation into faulty accelerators. Several million vehicles were effected by faulty floor mats and accelerator pedals that stick down, resulting in substantial danger.
Federal regulators "are taking this seriously and reviewing the facts to determine whether a timeliness investigation is warranted," NHTSA spokeswoman Karen Aldana told the AP in response to questions about the 2005 recall.
According to an AP investigation, NHTSA has now linked 16 crashes, three deaths and seven injuries to the steering rod defect. Loss of use of the steering rod creates immediate danger as the front wheels cannot turn.
Attorney John Kristensen argues that Toyota improperly delayed notification of the defect. He is suing on behalf of the family of Michael "Levi" Stewart who died in a 2007 Toyota vehicle accident.
They clearly had evidence. They clearly had problems in the U.S., Kristensen said. They've got to be held responsible for misleading the U.S. government about why they weren't doing a recall in the United States.
However, Toyota contents that they acted properly in the timing of their recall. Toyota said it had first seen the steering rod issue in Japanese models in October 2004. Toyota believed the steering rod issue was limited to Japan because of the "unique operating condition" of "frequent standing full-lock turns, such as for narrow parking spaces."
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood believes that Toyota is making progress. "With new assurances from Toyota about their efforts to improve safety, I hope for their cooperation in getting to the bottom of what happened," said LaHood.