NHTSA Chief Calling It Quits

NHTSA ChiefDavid Strickland, the administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, is leaving the agency.

Strickland, 45, has been the United States’ top auto safety regulator since early 2010. He was a major player in the federal investigation into unintended acceleration in Toyota vehicles and in negotiating new fuel economy standards with the auto industry. An agency spokesman confirmed the move.

No one has yet been nominated to permanently fill the position, but the acting administrator will be Strickland’s current second-in-command, David Friedman, a fuel economy expert who worked at the advocacy group Union of Concerned Scientists before joining NHTSA earlier this year.

Strickland informed senior staff of his plans to leave the agency, according to a report in The Detroit News.

During his time at NHTSA, Strickland has given the agency a greater focus on advanced safety features that can prevent vehicle crashes. This year, NHTSA released the first guidelines for autonomous vehicles, as automakers, suppliers and technology firms race to bring that technology to market. Other technologies Strickland has supported include automatic braking and wireless vehicle-to-vehicle communications. He had pledged to take action on both of them by year’s end, with a government mandate as one possible option.

Whoever succeeds Strickland will oversee a number of high-profile investigations — including an inquiry into recent battery fires in the Tesla Model S on U.S. roads.

Over the past few years, Strickland has built a reputation among auto industry leaders as a “gracious and fair administrator,” said Mitch Bainwol, CEO of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, in an interview.

“We appreciated the opportunity to work with a guy who was passionate about the business,” Bainwol said. “He didn’t always agree with us, but we always felt we could make our pitch, and when he disagreed, we understood exactly why.”

Said Bainwol: “We’re going to miss him a lot.”


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