The fine is a record amount and includes an admission by Toyota that it mislead its customers about a brake and acceleration problem.
Toyota began recalling millions of its cars in 2009, even though the problem of uncontrollable acceleration surfaced two years earlier. However, government investigators say Toyota didn't reveal what it knew about the problem.
We spoke to Nancy Kanazawa in 2009 when her Prius was recalled. We talked to her on Wednesday about the $1.2 billion fine Toyota will pay to settle criminal charges.
"I don't think it'll really change a lot. To them it's just money, a multi-billion dollar company," said Kanazawa.
The acceleration problem is linked to at least five deaths, including a CHP officer and his family, driving a Lexus near San Diego.
Toyota's top lawyer released a statement saying: "We're committed to continued improvement in everything we do to keep building trust in our company..." To that end, Toyota says it has improved customer responsiveness, its quality control process, and has extended the new vehicle development process to ensure reliability and safety.
"I certainly hope they have learned something, and I guess if a billion dollar fine should teach you something, and I think they should be more upfront," said Kanazawa.
Toyota will be subject to independent review of its safety program for the next three years.
"I'd bet that Toyota today is a much more responsive company than they were, but you know it really starts with Toyota employees. You've got to empower them to say, 'Hey, we've got a problem here, and we should fix that,'" said Brian Douglas, an automotive industry analyst.