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Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood seems to have found a "smoking gun," in the Toyota recall controversy, alleging his department now has proof the automaker shirked its legal responsibilities. "We now have proof that Toyota failed to live up to its legal obligations," he said yesterday. "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."

As a result, the Transportation department is looking to fine Toyota $16.38 million – the highest penalty possible and the largest ever handed out.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has the right to fine automakers that don't inform the government body of a problem within five business days. According to the NHTSA, Toyota took four months to confirm the sticky accelerator pedal issue, long after it acknowledged such a problem existed by sending repair instructions to distributors in Europe and Canada. (Toyota Canada has since refuted this claim, saying no such repair info was sent to distributors in that country).

Toyota has two weeks to challenge any such fine by the NHTSA and has not yet said if it will, instead releasing a statement referring to its efforts to improve safety and communication at the company. Meanwhile the transportation department has said it is continuing to review internal Toyota documents and that more fines could be levied if additional violations are discovered.

More: Breaking: Toyota Faces $16M Fine As Transportation Department Claims it has Proof Automaker Hid Defect on
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