Honda has been fined $70 million by the US government for failing to report hundreds of claims alleging deaths and injuries, officials have said.
The Japanese motor company’s US subsidiary will pay two $35 million fines – the largest civil penalty ever levied against a carmaker as a result of an investigation by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.
American Honda admitted in November that it had neglected to tell its regulators it had received some 1,729 complaints alleging that its vehicles had caused deaths and injuries between July 2003 and June 2014. The firm disclosed it had learned of the omissions in 2011 but had waited three years to take action.
Eight of those incidents involved Takata Corp air bags that had ruptured and have been the subject of massive recalls and federal investigations.
Honda had also failed to report certain warranty claims and claims under customer satisfaction campaigns throughout the same period, federal officials said.
US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said: "One thing we cannot tolerate and will not tolerate is an automaker failing to report to us any safety issues, because if we don't know about these problems, we're missing an essential piece of the puzzle in the recall efforts we use to fix them and to protect the public."
Honda has agreed to pay the fines under a consent order it signed with the traffic safety administration on 29 December, but officials said they have not yet received all the complaints from Honda and therefore don't have a tally of how many involved allegations of deaths.
Both fines are the maximums the agency is legally allowed to impose. However, Foxx said the caps need to be lifted because a single violation could lead to a death. He added that information about Honda's failure to disclose the complaints also has been forwarded to the Justice Department.
The Center for Auto Safety, a consumer watchdog group, called for a criminal investigation of Honda after the company's failure to disclose the complaints became public.
Rick Schostek, executive vice president of Honda North America Inc, said in a statement: "We have resolved this matter and will move forward to build on the important actions Honda has already taken to address our past shortcomings in early warning reporting."
Honda has been under investigation for violations of the NHTSA's Early Warning Reporting regulations. The rules require automakers to report quickly any information about possible defects, deaths and injuries or damage and warranty claims made by consumers.
The automaker had earlier attributed its disclosure transgressions to data entry and computer programming errors, and also said it had relied on an "overly narrow interpretation" of its legal reporting requirements
The company said it was initiating new training regimens, changing internal reporting policy and enhancing oversight of its early warning reporting process.
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