Former Calif. regulator tapped to run highway safety agency

Oct 19, 2021, 3:09 PM | Updated: Oct 20, 2021, 9:56 pm

DETROIT (AP) — A former California pollution regulator is being nominated to run the nation’s highway safety agency.

President Joe Biden on Tuesday announced his intention to nominate Steven Cliff, who has served as deputy administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration since February, to become the agency’s administrator.

If confirmed by the Senate, Cliff would take over the agency at a crucial juncture. Highway deaths are rising, battery electric vehicles are upending the auto industry, and vehicle automation is spreading into more models.

NHTSA, which sets vehicle safety standards, finds safety defects, manages recalls and helps to develop government fuel economy requirements, has been without a confirmed administrator since Mark Rosekind left at the end of 2016. Auto safety advocates have been calling on Biden to make a nomination so a confirmed administrator can start moving on a safety agenda.

The announcement comes three days after The Associated Press reported that the agency is struggling with a growing backlog of safety rules ordered by Congress that are years overdue and could save thousands of lives. An AP review of rule-making by NHTSA under the last three presidents found at least 13 auto safety rules past due, including a rear seat belt reminder requirement passed by Congress in 2012 that was to be implemented by 2015.

The pending safety rules have been slowed by bureaucracy or taken a back seat to other priorities. President Donald Trump sidetracked at least four major road safety proposals that were in development during his term.

An estimated 38,680 people were killed in traffic crashes in 2020, the most since 2007, even though total miles driven dropped at the beginning of the pandemic. In the first three months of 2021, 8,730 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes, a 10.5% increase from the same period last year.

Last year, over half of all crash fatalities involved unbelted drivers or occupants, the highest level since 2012, according to NHTSA.

Over 800 people who were unbelted in the back seat die each year in car crashes. An analysis of NHTSA’s data by a state governors’ safety group found that wearing seat belts would have saved over half of them.

Cliff joined NHTSA shortly after Biden’s inauguration. Before joining the agency, he was deputy executive officer at the California Air Resources Board, which regulates pollution in the state. He has held a number of positions with the agency and the California Department of Transportation, where he was assistant director for sustainability.

While he was deputy NHTSA administrator, the agency has grown more aggressive in regulating the auto industry. It has required that automakers and tech companies report crashes involving autonomous or partially automated driving systems. It also has forced electric vehicle sales leader Tesla Inc. to recall cars to fix touch screens that go blank, and it opened an investigation into Tesla’s Autopilot partially automated driver-assist system due to crashes into parked emergency vehicles.

Jason Levine, executive director of the nonprofit Center for Auto Safety, said the nomination is an important first step toward working to make roads safer. Under Cliff, NHTSA has “shown a renewed interest” in using enforcement and regulatory options to counter rising crash deaths, Levine said.

“We are hopeful that these early indications are indicative of delivering future safety gains for the public,” he said.

Also under Cliff, NHTSA has started the regulatory process to require automatic emergency braking systems be standard on passenger cars and heavy trucks. Levine said the agency has to do more to bring in current and potential technologies to make the roads safer.

NHTSA also confirmed it will bring on Duke University Professor Missy Cummings as a senior adviser for safety. Cummings has done studies on how humans interact with automated and partially automated vehicles. She’ll join the agency under a program that allows temporary assignments between federal, state and local governments.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

This combination of images shows promotional art for "Riches," a series premiering Dec. 2 on Amazon...
Associated Press

New this week: ‘Riches,’ Robert Downey Sr. and BTS’ RM

Here’s a collection curated by The Associated Press’ entertainment journalists of what’s arriving on TV, streaming services and music and video game platforms this week. MOVIES — Robert Downey Jr. affectionately pays tribute to this late father, Robert Downey Sr. in “Sr.,” an intimate documentary the younger Downey spent three years filming with his dad […]
12 hours ago
FILE - A visitor wearing a face mask walks past artwork displayed at an NFT (non-fungible token)-th...
Associated Press

Fidelity Charitable launches NFT raffle amid crypto downturn

NEW YORK (AP) — Fidelity Charitable is getting into NFTs, the digital images that are registered on the blockchain, despite a torrent of bad news from the adjacent world of cryptocurrencies. The nation’s largest grantmaker is sponsoring a raffle that ends Tuesday, where participants can claim one of the NFTs, which stands for nonfungible token, […]
12 hours ago
FILE - Christine Lagarde, President of the European Central Bank listens during a news conference i...
Associated Press

Europe’s inflation likely hasn’t peaked, ECB’s Lagarde says

BRUSSELS (AP) — The head of the European Central Bank said Monday she does not believe inflation has peaked after reaching the highest levels on record. ECB President Christine Lagarde also told European lawmakers that the bank isn’t through raising interest rates to combat those price spikes. There is too much uncertainty to know whether […]
12 hours ago
FILE - Freight train cars sit in a Norfolk Southern rail yard on Sept. 14, 2022, in Atlanta. Busine...
Associated Press

Business groups urge Congress to block potential rail strike

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Business groups are increasing the pressure on lawmakers to intervene and block a railroad strike before next month’s deadline in the stalled contract talks. A coalition of more than 400 business groups sent a letter to Congressional leaders Monday urging them to step into the stalled talks because of fears about […]
12 hours ago
Associated Press

Mother charged with murder after daughter found dead in fire

EAST POINT, Ga. (AP) — An Atlanta-area woman has been arrested on murder charges after investigators say she killed one of her twin 4-year-old daughters and set fire to her apartment to conceal the death, burning the other twin. Nicole Jackson, 27, was arrested Friday by East Point police and remains jailed in Fulton County […]
12 hours ago
FILE - Then-Census Bureau Director nominee Robert Santos, testifies before the Senate Homeland Secu...
Associated Press

Census Bureau chief defends new privacy tool against critics

The U.S. Census Bureau’s chief is defending a new tool meant to protect the privacy of people participating in the statistical agency’s questionnaires against calls to abandon it by prominent researchers who claim it jeopardizes the usefulness of numbers that are the foundation of the nation’s data infrastructure. The tool known as differential privacy “was […]
12 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Quantum Fiber

How high-speed fiber internet edges out cable for everyday use

In a world where technology drives so much of our daily lives, a lack of high-speed internet can be a major issue.
...
SCHWARTZ LASER EYE CENTER

Key dates for Arizona sports fans to look forward to this fall

Fall brings new beginnings in different ways for Arizona’s professional sports teams like the Cardinals and Coyotes.
...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Ways to prevent clogged drains and what to do if you’re too late

While there are a variety of ways to prevent clogged drains, it's equally as important to know what to do when you're already too late.
Former Calif. regulator tapped to run highway safety agency