The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will seek a $16.4 million fine against Toyota for "failing to notify the auto safety agency of the dangerous 'sticky pedal' defect for at least four months, despite knowing of the potential risk to consumers," agency officials announced.

The fine is the maximum civil penalty the agency can seek and would be the largest such fine ever levied against an auto manufacturer.

“We now have proof that Toyota failed to live up to its legal obligations,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement. “Worse yet, they knowingly hid a dangerous defect for months from U.S. officials and did not take action to protect millions of drivers and their families. For those reasons, we are seeking the maximum penalty possible under current laws."

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, in a Senate Commerce hearing last month, told Toyota executives and federal regulators that they had become too chummy, with a rotating door between agency and industry contributing to consumer complaints being ignored with fatal consequences. She hailed the NHSTA announcement, saying it "sends an important message" to Toyota, whose actions have "hurt everyone from consumers to our auto dealers."

"We need to change the rules of the road so that consumers are on an equal playing field with industry," Klobuchar said in a statement. "To make sure problems like this don't happen again, consumers’ complaints need to be given as much attention from safety regulators as the industry’s defense of those complaints.”