LaHood eyes penalties against Toyota

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Wednesday he's considering civil penalties against Toyota.

LaHood told reporters the administration is looking at penalizing the Japanese auto giant over problems with gas pedals that has led to a recall of 2.3 million U.S. vehicles. Toyota also has stopped the sale of eight of its models because of accelerator pedals that can stick on the floor when pressed down.

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LaHood said that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the Transportation Department agency investigating the pedal problem, is still looking for safety defects in the vehicles. LaHood said that owners of Toyota cars "should exercise concern immediately."

"We're reviewing this and the best thing we can do is stay tuned," LaHood said.

LaHood said that he plans to personally talk with Toyota's president, Akio Toyoda, about the seriousness of the problem.

"I think he understands, but I've never talked to him," LaHood said. "I just feel I need to have a conversation with him."

Toyoda apologized when the problem first surfaced last October. The company blamed the sticky pedals to floor mats last year, but said last month that the assembly of the pedals was a factor. The company's U.S. president, James Lentz, repeatedly apologized this week for the problem as the company issued a repair.

Congress is planning hearings on the issue, and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) on Tuesday requested additional information from Toyota.