WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden plans to nominate the acting director of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for the top job, the White House said Monday.
Ann Carlson, the agency’s chief counsel, was named acting head of NHTSA in September. She oversaw a safety investigation into Tesla, as well as efforts to reduce traffic fatalities and significantly increase vehicle fuel economy requirements.
NHTSA has been without a Senate-confirmed administrator for the better part of the past six years. Traffic deaths in the United States have risen sharply since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Road fatalities jumped 10.5% to 42,915 in 2021, the highest year for U.S. road fatalities since 2005.
In January, Carlson said the agency was studying the impact of vehicle size on road safety and was “very concerned” about “the extent to which heavier vehicles lead to higher death rates.”
Carlson said in January that the agency was “dedicating significant resources” to investigating Tesla, but declined to commit to a timeline for resolving the probe. “We’re moving as fast 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 investigation to 830,000 Tesla vehicles equipped with the driver assistance system Autopilot and involved collisions with parked emergency vehicles.
NHTSA is reviewing whether Tesla vehicles do enough to keep drivers focused.
NHTSA plans to propose new fuel economy standards for the 2027 model year and beyond in April that could dramatically reshape new vehicles on U.S. roads, Carlson said.
In March 2020, the Republican administration of former President Donald Trump lowered the bar to a mere 1.5% annual increase in efficiency through 2026, well below the 5% annual increase demanded by former President Barack Obama. The Biden administration reversed Trump’s actions in 2021 and directed NHTSA and the Environmental Protection Agency to begin the next round of stricter rules.