Updated 10:15 ET
Toyota will pay penalties amounting to $1.2 billion to end a criminal investigation into its handling of dangerous unintended acceleration of its vehicles, one the largest fines ever imposed on an auto maker.
The investigation began after an off-duty California Highway Patrolman and his family barreled off a highway at 120 miles an hour and were killed, despite desperate attempts to stop the borrowed Lexus they were driving.
The Justice Department’s four-year investigation found that Toyota had misled the government and the public about safety issues in its autos, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced Wednesday. “Rather than promptly disclosing and correcting safety issues about which they were aware, Toyota made misleading public statements to consumers and gave inaccurate facts to Members of Congress,” Holder said.
Dozens of people had died as a result of unwanted acceleration, Rep. Edolphus Towns, D.-N.Y., chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform said in 2010.
Toyota said it has moved to address many of the issues raised in the investigation. “We have made fundamental changes across our global operations to become a more responsive company – listening better to our customers’ needs and proactively taking action to serve them,” said Toyota North America’s chief legal officer, Christopher P. Reynolds.
The automaker’s deal with the Department of Justice includes a deferred prosecution agreement, which allows Toyota to avoid criminal charges providing it pays the $1.2 billion penalty immediately and follows the terms of the settlement.
General Motors is also under federal investigation after not disclosing a deadly default in its vehicles, which led to a recall of 1.6 million cars last month.
Holder said the investigation could serve as a model for future probes of auto companies. When asked about General Motors, Holder said “the announcement we’re making today is reflective of the aggressive action we intent to take” in the future.