Biden to nominate NHTSA’s acting head to lead the safety agency

WASHINGTON — The White House said on Monday that President Joe Biden plans to nominate the acting head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to serve in the top job.

Ann Carlson, the agency’s chief counsel, was named acting head of NHTSA in September. She has overseen safety probes into Tesla and efforts to shrink traffic deaths and significantly boost vehicle fuel economy requirements.

For much of the past six years, NHTSA has been without a Senate-confirmed administrator. U.S. traffic deaths have risen sharply since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Road deaths jumped 10.5% in 2021 to 42,915, the highest number killed on American roads in a single year since 2005.

In January, Carlson said the agency was studying the impact of vehicle size on roadway safety and was “very concerned” about the “degree to which heavier vehicles contribute to greater fatality rates.”

The agency is “investing a lot of resources” in the Tesla probe, Carlson said in January, declining to commit to a timeframe for resolving the probe. “We’re moving as quickly as we can, but we also want to be careful and make sure we have all the information we need.”

In June, NHTSA upgraded its defect probe into 830,000 Tesla vehicles with driver assistance system Autopilot and involving crashes with parked emergency vehicles.

NHTSA is reviewing whether Tesla vehicles adequately ensure drivers are paying attention.

NHTSA plans to propose in April new fuel economy standards for the 2027 model year and beyond, which could dramatically reshape new cars on America’s roads, Carlson said.

In March 2020, former President Donald Trump’s Republican administration rolled back the standards to only 1.5% annual increases in efficiency through 2026, much less than the 5% annual increases required by former President Barack Obama. The Biden administration in 2021 reversed Trump’s action and instructed NHTSA and the Environmental Protection Agency to begin work on the next round of tougher rules.


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