By Gabe Nelson, Crain News Service
WASHINGTON (Dec. 13, 2013) — David Strickland, administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration since early 2010, is leaving the agency.
Mr. Strickland, 45, 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.
David Friedman, the No. 2 at NHTSA, will be the acting administrator in Mr. Strickland’s absence. Mr. Friedman is considered a fuel-economy expert who worked at the advocacy group Union of Concerned Scientists before joining NHTSA earlier this year.
Mr. Strickland informed senior staff on Wednesday of his plans to leave the agency, according to a report in the Detroit News. NHTSA has since confirmed his leaving.
During his time at NHTSA, Mr. 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.
NHTSA also promulgated fuel-efficiency standards for tires, but the regulations have yet to be implemented.
Other technologies Mr. Strickland has supported include automatic braking and wireless vehicle-to-vehicle communications. He had pledged to take action on both of them by year-end, with a government mandate as one possible option.
Whoever succeeds Mr. 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, Mr. 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,” Mr. 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.
“We’re going to miss him a lot.”