Automakers recalled about 20 million vehicles in the U.S. in 2010, led by high-profile recalls by Toyota that prompted new scrutiny of the auto industry's safety record.
The number of recalls this year was the largest in the United States since 2004, according to an analysis of federal data by The Associated Press. The auto industry set a record with 30.8 million recalled vehicles that year.
Toyota Motor Corp. recalled about 7.1 million vehicles in 2010 to fix faulty gas pedals, floor mats that could trap accelerators, defective braking and stalling engines.
The safety woes by the world's No. 1 automaker brought more attention to auto safety from government regulators and the public, which filed more than 64,000 complaints with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, nearly double the number in a typical year.
Safety recalls can cost car companies tens of millions of dollars or more and have become more common since 2000, when Congress passed legislation to spot safety defects more quickly in the aftermath of the massive Firestone tire recalls.
In 2010, lawmakers held several hearings on the Toyota recalls but sweeping legislation to increase penalties against car companies, require automakers to meet new safety standards and empower the government to demand a recall stalled in Congress.
Toyota promises to do better after facing hefty fines
Toyota was fined $48.8 million by the government for its handling of three recalls dating back to 2004. Toyota has vowed to take a more proactive approach to safety, creating engineering teams that can quickly examine cars that are the subject of consumer complaints while giving its U.S. offices a more direct role in safety related decisions.
Among other automakers, General Motors Co. recalled about four million vehicles in 2010 while Japanese rivals Honda and Nissan both recalled more than two million cars and trucks. Chrysler recalled about 1.5 million vehicles and Ford called back more than 500,000 vehicles. The recall data was preliminary and the government was expected to release final numbers next year.
"More and more recalls are being voluntarily initiated by automakers and we think that's a good sign," Transportation Department spokeswoman Olivia Alair said Wednesday.
"Safety is NHTSA's first priority and improved co-operation from automakers will help resolve safety issues more quickly and comprehensively."
Wade Newton, a spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which represents a dozen car companies, including GM, Toyota and Ford, said automakers "are doing a better job of identifying and pinpointing safety-related issues and taking faster action."
He said safety advances in new vehicles helped traffic deaths decline last year to its lowest levels since 1950.