DETROIT — Once Fiat Chrysler Automobiles admitted to widespread violations of vehicle safety laws, regulators decided to get creative in their punishment.
First and foremost was a cash fine of $70 million against the company — equal to the largest penalty ever imposed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration — for failing to execute 23 recalls covering 11 million vehicles.
But the additional actions taken by the agency in its consent order with Fiat Chrysler broke some new ground in the government’s efforts to stamp out shoddy safety practices by automakers.
The consent order, which was signed on Friday by Fiat Chrysler and government officials and released on Sunday, calls for the automaker to buy back hundreds of thousands of defective vehicles, and pay consumers $100 just to participate in a recall of Jeeps equipped with fire-prone gas tanks.
Regulators also forced the automaker to give broad authority to an independent monitor to oversee its safety operations for at least three years, and required it to fund educational programs on vehicle recalls for consumers, suppliers and other automakers.
In addition to the cash fine, Fiat Chrysler must spend at least $20 million to satisfy performance requirements in the consent order, including vehicle buybacks. An additional $15 million in fines can be imposed if the independent monitor discovers further safety violations.
The overall financial cost to Fiat Chrysler could reach $105 million, but it is the long list of other tasks and requirements imposed on the company that regulators hope will help improve safety across the industry.
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said the level of punishment meted out to Fiat Chrysler was an example of the “very aggressive” actions that automakers would face for failing to fix unsafe cars.
“I think we are going to see the industry taking this issue more seriously,” Mr. Foxx said during a conference call with reporters on Monday.
Regulators, however, did not refer Fiat Chrysler’s safety violations to the Justice Department for a criminal investigation. “We believe that the very strong fines that we are issuing today, coupled with remedial measures, will allow us to move forward,” Mr. Foxx said.
A central part of the consent order is Fiat Chrysler’s agreement to buy back about 578,000 trucks and sport utility vehicles, primarily Ram pickups, with defective suspensions that can cause drivers to lose control of the vehicles.
It is the largest buyback order that the safety agency has issued in any recent action against an auto company. Mark R. Rosekind, the agency’s administrator, said the buyback was necessary because “there was not an effective remedy” available to fix the vehicles.
Fiat Chrysler is required to pay a price above market value for the vehicles, Mr. Foxx said. Any costs incurred by the company can be applied as credits toward the $20 million portion of the consent order.
The agency did not require a buyback for 1.56 million Jeeps that have rear-mounted gas tanks that can ignite in high-speed collisions. Regulators have linked more than 50 deaths to the problem.
Instead, Fiat Chrysler agreed to offer $1,000 bonuses to some Jeep owners who choose to trade in their vehicles, and $100 gift cards to other owners who simply participate in the company’s slow-moving recall.
Mr. Rosekind said the Jeeps were not considered for buybacks because the current recall, which involves installing a trailer hitch to absorb rear impacts, was effective. “The company has a remedy that has definite safety benefits,” he said.
Clarence Ditlow of the Center for Auto Safety criticized the Jeep incentives as hardly helpful for owners of older models that have low market values.
“Jeep owners get a $1,000 coupon to buy a new Jeep that costs $35,000,” said Mr. Ditlow, whose group spearheaded the gas tank issue. “Very few 1993-98 Jeep Grand Cherokee owners can afford to buy a new Jeep.”
Mr. Rosekind said regulators would be watching the program closely to see whether it improves what he called the dismal rate of participation in the trailer-hitch recall so far.
He also expressed confidence that forcing Fiat Chrysler to research how to improve recalls industrywide would have long-term benefits.
Among the tasks required of the company are distributing safety material at trade shows and educating consumers on how to report potential vehicle defects to the government.
“Our goal is simple — more safety for the driving public,” Mr. Rosekind said.