Crain News Service staff and wire reports
WASHINGTON (March 12, 2014) — Deborah Hersman, the public face of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and a frequent critic of the auto industry, is stepping down to head a safety-advocacy group.
Ms. Hersman, 43, will become president and CEO of the National Safety Council, based in Itasca, Ill., the group said in a statement.
Ms. Hersman, who often clashed with auto makers and technology providers over in-vehicle communication, driver fatigue and driver distraction issues, and pushed for tougher drunk driving laws, plans to step down on April 25.
Under her guidance, the NTSB also considered recommendations such as new designs for automobiles and roads, and testing requirements for elderly motorists, to reflect the steady rise in U.S. drivers age 65 or older.
The NTSB recommends safety improvements for U.S. agencies to act upon. But it has no power to implement the recommendations.
“We have got to dispel the myth of multitasking,” Ms. Hersman said in early 2012 about the proliferation of electronic devices and communication services in light vehicles. “We are still learning what the human brain can handle. What is the price of our desire to be mobile and connected at the same time?”
In late 2012, the NTSB called on the U.S. government to mandate new safety technologies in all vehicles, a move that could dramatically reduce the number of fatalities caused by driver distractions. The agency has also strongly recommended collision warning systems on light vehicles since the mid 1990s.
Ms. Hersman also called for banning nearly all hands-free and hand-held cellphone calls in light vehicles.
“Too many people are texting, talking and driving at the same time,” Ms. Hersman told a Washington hearing in December 2011. “It's time to put a stop to distraction. No call, no text, no update is worth a human life.”
Ms. Hersman was a regular visitor to the North American International Auto Show in Detroit to meet with auto makers and prod them to do more to prevent driver distraction and enhance light-vehicle safety.
Still, the U.S. government and many states have largely failed to adopt many of the safety board's recommendations.
Vice Chairman Christopher Hart of the safety board, which investigates transportation accidents, will be acting chairman when Ms. Hersman leaves April 25, he said in a statement.
“I absolutely feel I am one of the luckiest people in the world to be able to do this, but it's been 10 years,” Ms. Hersman said March 11 in an interview. “This was just an opportunity I couldn't turn down.”
She steps down as the board is still investigating the cause of battery fires in Boeing Co. 787 Dreamliner planes, last year's fatal Asiana Airlines crash in San Francisco and the deadliest accident in the history of Metro-North Railroad.