WASHINGTON - The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced Feb. 16 that it is using its statutory authority to obtain documents from Toyota to determine whether the automaker conducted three of its recent recalls in a timely manner. 

Federal law requires all auto manufacturers to notify NHTSA within five days of determining that a safety defect exists and promptly conduct a recall. 

The auto safety agency is requiring Toyota to provide documents showing when and how it learned of the defects affecting approximately 6 million vehicles in the U.S. alone. The probe will examine how the automaker learned of these defects, such as through consumer complaints or factory testing. Investigators are also looking into whether Toyota discovered the problems during pre-production or post-production of the affected vehicles. 

In response to the announced probe, Toyota released a statement saying it "takes its responsibility to advance vehicle safety seriously and to alert government officials of any safety issue in a timely manner." Toyota added that it was "reviewing NHTSA's request and will cooperate to provide all the information they have requested." 

NHTSA said officials are "checking whether Toyota has covered all affected models in its recent recalls to ensure Toyota did not miss any problems. The agency will obtain information on production data, incidents, complaints, warranty complaints, copies of tests, dates of meetings, timelines, and supplier information." 

The three recalls in question involve various Toyota and Lexus vehicles. Two of the recalls are related to the entrapment of gas pedals by floor mats. The first recall was announced on Sept. 26, 2007, and was followed by a subsequent one on Oct. 6, 2009. The October recall was expanded on Jan. 29, 2010 to include additional vehicles. The third recall, involving sticking gas pedals, was announced on Jan. 21, 2010.  

"Our top priority is safety and we expect that all manufacturers address automotive safety issues quickly and in a forthright manner," said David Strickland, NHTSA administrator.