06/20/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Wait a Second! Part I: Toyota Fined?

Wait a second! Toyota Motor Corp. agreed Monday to pay a record $16.4 million fine for failing to properly notify U.S. authorities about a dangerous accelerator pedal defect, but denied allegations it broke the law. Wow! Now let's do the math here. According to their own financial statements, the company was able to post a $1.68 billion profit the last three months ending December 31 2009. This was better than expected and better than the $1.8 billion they lost the same quarter a year earlier.

Okay, so let's do the math. That's equivalent to fining Toyota about .0095 of their total profits just for that one quarter. In numbers we can believe in, let's say you make $100,000 a year and you were fined .0095 of your salary for some misdemeanor. In California, for example, driving in the car pool lane by yourself would cost you $341 if you got caught. So, let's say your commute is worth it and you were nabbed three times for that. Your fine then would be $1023. Yep, $1023 which is $73 more than what Toyota would have been fined for driving in the same lane.

According to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, announcing the largest-ever penalty paid by an automaker to the U.S. government, "by failing to report known safety problems as it is required to do under the law, Toyota put consumers at risk.'" He went on to say that "I am pleased that Toyota has accepted responsibility for violating its legal obligations to report any defects promptly," LaHood said, noting that the U.S. government was continuing to investigate "whether the company has lived up to all its disclosure obligations.'"

Does it really matter? Of course, Toyota must have been thrilled to pay the equivalent of $950 in fines for some of the most egregious mistakes in the history of car making. One can even see Toyota execs chuckling away at the "fine." It seems to me that if LaHood were really serious about fining Toyota, then he would have put a bite into the fine, but $16.4 million isn't really a fine; it's the equivalent of brushing away a gnat in the humidity of an August morning.