WASHINGTON, Jan 8 (Reuters) - Honda Motor Co has agreed to pay $70 million in penalties to the U.S. government for failing to report hundreds of injuries, deaths and other consumer claims involving its cars, transportation officials said on Thursday.
American Honda, the company's U.S. subsidiary, will pay two $35 million fines, the largest amount ever paid by an automaker as a result of an investigation by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.
The automaker 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.
In November, Honda disclosed it had failed to report 1,729 cases involving deaths or injuries between July 2003 and June 2014.
Eight of those incidents involved Takata Corp air bags that had ruptured and have been the subject of massive recalls and federal investigations.
"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," U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said during a news call.
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
"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," Rick Schostek, executive vice president of Honda North America Inc, said in a statement.
The company said it was initiating new training regimens, changing internal reporting policy and enhancing oversight of its early warning reporting process.
U.S. law caps the fines for those kinds of violations at $35 million. Foxx said the caps need to be lifted because a single violation could lead to a death.
"Seventy million dollars is a start. But we still need automakers to step up and take care of consumers with defective airbags, and we need regulators to insist on more timely and accurate reporting of possible safety defects," said Senator Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat who has initiated a recent Senate probe of the auto industry. (Reporting by Elvina Nawaguna; Editing by Bill Trott and Steve Orlofsky)