WASHINGTON — Honda will pay $70 million in federal fines for failing to report death, injury and other claims to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration between 2003 and 2014, federal safety officials said on Thursday.
It is the largest auto safety penalty in U.S. history and follows a record year for civil penalties levied against automakers by the federal government.
Honda will pay two $35 million civil penalties.
The first is a result of Honda's failure to report 1,729 death and injury claims to NHTSA between 2003 and 2014. The second civil penalty is due to Honda's failure to report "certain warranty claims and claims under customer satisfaction campaigns through the same time period," NHTSA said.
In addition to paying the fines, Honda also has agreed to increased NHTSA oversight and third-party audits to ensure that all required reporting is "completed now and into the future," NHTSA said.
"Honda admits that it violated the TREAD Act reporting requirements by failing to submit all early warning report information as required," the automaker said in a statement.
The TREAD Act was passed by Congress in 2000 following 270 reported deaths in Ford SUVs with defective Firestone tires.
In a conference call with the media, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx signaled a get-tough attitude with automakers.
Federal safety watchdogs want to be able to spot safety concerns earlier in order to protect the public, especially after a year of record recalls, including the Takata airbag recall crisis and the General Motors ignition-switch recall crisis.
"Honda and all of the automakers have a safety responsibility they must live up to — no excuses," Foxx said. "Last year alone, we issued more fines than in NHTSA's entire history. These fines reflect the tough stance we will take against those who violate the law and fail to do their part in the mission to keep Americans safe on the road."
He added: "One thing we cannot tolerate and will not tolerate is an automaker failing to report to us any safety issues."
Federal safety regulators said they have been in contact with the U.S. Justice Department regarding the Honda investigation. It is up to the Justice Department to determine whether to pursue criminal penalties against Honda.
Anything related to the ongoing Takata airbag recall crisis is included in the aforementioned Honda death and injury claims, including eight claims involving Takata airbag inflator ruptures. They include one fatality and seven injury claims.
However, the fines are not "specifically related" to Takata airbags, NHTSA said.
Honda said it has already "begun taking steps to correct the errors responsible for the violations."
"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," said Rick Schostek, Honda North America executive vice president, in a statement. "We continue to fully cooperate with NHTSA to achieve greater transparency and to further enhance our reporting practices."
Honda spokesman Jeffrey Smith told Edmunds: "Honda is not in a position to answer additional questions relating to this matter."
NHTSA's 2014 civil penalties include a $35-million fine against General Motors for delaying a recall of 2.6 million vehicles with an ignition-switch problem.
Edmunds says: The feds start out the new year by taking a tougher line against automakers who fail to disclose safety concerns in a timely manner.