It’s been over a year since the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration had someone officially running the show. While plenty of political appointments have been held up by Senate approval, the NHTSA is one President Trump has neglected since taking office. FormerÂ General Electric executive Heidi King has been the Deputy Administrator since September, and will be the one Trump taps to assume overall leadership of the agency. It’s about time.
The NHTSA has to cope with theÂ planned fuel efficiency changes, oversee the neverending Takata airbag recalls, and start doing some damage control with autonomous vehicle development. While the recall issues are likely to remain business as usual, the current administration has pursued lax standards for both autonomous safety and corporate efficiency rulesÂ â€” and both have seen growing opposition.
Entire states are already pushing back against the proposed fuel efficiency rollbacks and there have been two fatalities involving self-driving and semi-autonomous technology within the last month. Because of this, promoting King might be a wise choice. Her corporate ties have some people concerned she’ll go easy on businesses, but at least she already has some experience in dealing with the big issues.Â
King dispatched investigative teams to both the fatal Uber crash and the life-ending highway incident involving Tesla’s Autopilot system last month, and is already handling questions regarding the fuel rollbacks. “It will be a proposal that will stimulate dialogue, robust listening to the data and the stakeholders that should inform a decision before we go to a final rule stage,” King said of the efficiency changes in March.
In addition to her corporate history, KingÂ previously served in the White House’s Office of Management and Budget and spent two years as chief economist on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. On paper, she seems qualified for the job. But few expect her to rattle any cages on policy. There have been few indications that she’ll encourage the NHTSA to reevaluate Vision 2.0 or challenge the Department of Transportation to be harder on autonomous testing.
However, King does seem committed to the cause and says her biggest challenge will be ensuring swift and seamless safety recalls. She has previously said more needs to be done to address the nearly 30 million U.S. vehicles that remain unfixed in the Takata air bag inflator recalls, as they still pose a serious danger to motorists.
Kingâ€™s appointment as head of the NHTSA is subject to Senate approval, meaning it could be a while before the position is officially filled.
[Image: U.S. Department of Transportation]