The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is slapping Takata Corp. with a $14,000-per-day fine for failing to “fully cooperate” with the agency’s investigation into exploding airbag inflators made by the supplier that are now linked to at least six deaths.
NHTSA also warned Takata that it will refer the situation to the Department of Justice if it fails to remedy the situation.
The fines stem from the agency’s “special orders” issued last year demanding that Takata produce documents and answer questions under oath about its airbags to support NHTSA’s investigation into the defect. The special orders are equivalent to a subpoena.
According to a letter to Takata attorneys sent by NHTSA chief counsel Kevin Vincent, Takata has supplied more than 2.4 million pages of documents in response to the agency’s subpoenas. The document production orders require Takata to include descriptions to explain the content of documents they submit, but Takata has failed to do so, Vincent said.
That issue, “coupled with Takata’s conduct earlier this week on a separate matter related to the agency’s ongoing investigation, we have concluded that Takata is neither being forthcoming with the information that it is legally obligated to supply, nor is it being cooperative in aiding NHTSA’s ongoing investigation of a potentially serious safety defect,” Vincent said in the letter. The meaning of Vincent’s reference to Takata’s conduct “earlier this week” is unclear.
Vincent also warned that NHTSA intends to depose Takata employees in the United States and in Japan if the situation isn’t remedied “in short order.”
Takata will face the $14,000 fine every day until it addresses its shortcomings in NHTSA’s investigation.
“Safety is a shared responsibility and Takata’s failure to fully cooperate with our investigation is unacceptable and will not be tolerated,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement. “For each day that Takata fails to fully cooperate with our demands, we will hit them with another fine.”
Foxx also called on Congress to pass the administration’s transportation bill, called the Grow America Act, which would give regulators new tools and increase the maximum civil penalty that can be imposed by NHTSA to $300 million from the current $35 million cap. The tools are needed to “change the culture of safety for bad actors like Takata.”