Toyota pays up in US car safety investigation

Toyota has agreed to pay the United States government a record $32.4m (£21m) in additional fines to settle an investigation into its handling of two worldwide recalls.

The penalties will settle investigations into how the Japanese company dealt with recalls over accelerator pedals that could get trapped in floor mats and steering relay rods that could break and lead to a loss of control.

The latest settlement, on top of a $16.4m (10.6m) fine Toyota paid earlier in a related investigation, brings the total penalties levied on the company to $48.8m (31.5m).

It caps a difficult year for the world's number one car maker, which recalled more than 11 million vehicles worldwide since last autumn as it scrambled to protect its reputation for safety and reliability. Toyota's board of directors approved the settlement at a meeting in Japan. But that does not free Toyota fro m potential civil and criminal penalties in private lawsuits and other US government investigations.

In April Toyota agreed to pay the maximum fine allowed under law for a single case – $16.4m – for failing to promptly alert US regulators to safety problems over sticking accelerator pedals.

Under US law, car makers must notify the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) within five days of deciding that a safety defect exists and conduct a prompt recall of cars believed to be affected.

At the time, Toyota denied attempting to hide a safety defect and said it agreed to the penalty to avoid a lengthy legal battle with the government.

Steve St Angelo, Toyota's chief quality officer for North America, said: "We have worked very hard over the past year to put these issues behind us and set a new standard of responsiveness to our customers.

"These agreements are an opportunity to turn the page to an even more constructive relationship with NHTSA".

He said Toyota was grateful to its customers for "their confidence in the quality and reliability of our vehicles".