Top U.S. auto safety official will leave NHTSA

WASHINGTON — The acting head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said on Friday she is stepping down from her post after overseeing the agency’s investigation into Tesla

Autopilot and efforts to strengthen fuel efficiency regulations.

Acting NHTSA Administrator Ann Carlson, who has run the agency since September 2022, told employees in an email she will leave her post on Dec. 26 because of a law limiting how long officials can remain in a temporary role.

Carlson, who was chief counsel at NHTSA beginning in January 2021, will serve in her former chief counsel role until the end of January before leaving the agency, she added.

Carlson, who took a leave of absence as an environmental law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in 2021, said the new fuel economy standards to be finalized in 2024 “will save consumers money at the pump, increase our energy independence, and reduced harmful pollutants, including the greenhouse gases that cause climate change.”

NHTSA Deputy Administrator Sophie Shulman will temporarily head up the agency until a new administrator can be named. She previously was deputy chief of staff for policy at the Transportation Department and also has served at the Energy Department, Office of Management and Budget and White House Domestic Policy Council.

Sophie Shulman

On Wednesday, Tesla recalled 2.2 million vehicles

in the United States and Canada to install new safeguards in its Autopilot advanced driver-assistance system after NHTSA raised safety concerns.

“One of the things we determined is that drivers are not always paying attention when that system is on,” Carlson said Wednesday.

In May, President Joe Biden withdrew his nomination of Carlson to serve in the top job on a permanent basis after she faced Republican opposition, and Biden has not made a new pick. Attempts in Congress to reduce her salary to $1 over Republican ire about electric vehicles

were voted down.

Carlson also oversaw safety probes into airbag ruptures, and efforts to reduce traffic deaths and advance about 50 safety regulations.

U.S. traffic deaths fell 4.5% in the first nine months of the year to 30,435 after sharply rising during the COVID-19 pandemic, the agency said Wednesday.

“While we are optimistic that we’re finally seeing a reversal of the record-high fatalities seen during the pandemic, this is not a cause for celebration,” Carlson said.

For much of the last six years, NHTSA has been without a Senate-confirmed administrator. During the Trump administration no nominee was ever confirmed to head NHTSA.