Washington — National Highway Traffic Safety Administrator David Strickland will join law firm Venable LLP later this month, joining the firm’s regulatory group, the law firm said Wednesday.
Strickland, 45, oversaw investigations into millions of Toyota Motor Corp. vehicles and helped broker a deal to nearly double fuel efficiency standards by 2025 — headed the agency that oversees vehicle safety standards, recalls, fuel economy regulations and other vehicle regulatory issues. Strickland didn’t respond to an email seeking comment on his plans.
Strickland, who has been the top U.S. auto regulator since 2010, will now be working for the law firm that represents many major automakers on a variety of regulatory matters — including some before NHTSA.
“An advocate for public safety on the roads, David has impressed the industry with his accomplishments,” said Brock R. Landry, co-chair of Venable’s Government Division. “From the Hill to the Administration, David is well respected and understands the often complex regulatory process from different points of view. He will play a key role in the ongoing growth of our Government Affairs, Automotive, and Technology practices.”
Venable’s website touts its auto sector work.
“Venable’s automotive industry attorneys represent auto industry players in litigation and transactions work across the country. We have been part of the industry for years, and we have worked through every industry issue with every type of industry player,” Venable said.
Several auto industry officials learned of Strickland’s appointment last week, but NHTSA and Venable wouldn’t confirm the announcement until Wednesday.
“It has been an honor to focus on auto safety for the past four years, however, most of my work in public service has been on broad consumer protection policy, including FTC and CPSC issues. Venable has one of the strongest regulatory and consumer protection policy practices in America. Joining this team of extremely talented attorneys and experts to help develop cross-cutting and thoughtful solutions captures what I envisioned in a full service firm,” Strickland said in a statement. “I could not be more excited to be joining them,” he said.“With federal regulations impacting our daily lives in more ways than most people can imagine, Venable knows how to navigate through and how to get things done. I’m looking forward to this new challenge and bringing my experience to one of the top teams in the country.”
David Friedman will be acting administrator after Strickland leaves. Earlier this year, Friedman — former deputy director of the Clean Vehicles Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists — was named NHTSA’s deputy director. Friedman often tussled with Detroit’s Big Three over fuel standards at UCS.
Strickland has headed the office since January 2010. During his tenure, NHTSA has finalized many key regulations and guidelines to automakers, including guidance to states on autonomous vehicles and distracted driving guidelines to automakers and overseen high-profile safety investigations into the Chevrolet Volt, Jeep SUVs and the Tesla Motors Model S for fire risks.
He is also working on a couple of key decisions due in coming weeks — whether to proceed with regulations on advanced braking to prevent forward collisions and on vehicle to vehicle communications — and has pushed research that could one day lead to in-vehicle devices that could bar intoxicated drivers from starting their vehicles.
During his tenure, NHTSA repeatedly delayed finalizing rear visibility rules required by Congress that would mandate rearview cameras in all new vehicles. The 2007 law required the rules by September 2011, but they have been delayed five times — and now are expected by January 2015. He has sparred with automakers on some safety mandates and recall issues. He rejected a suggestion from Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk for an investigation of its Model S EV.
The administration finalized rules requiring seat belts on commercial buses and proposed minimum sound requirements for electric vehicles and other quiet cars and requiring event data recorders — so-called auto “black boxes” in all vehicles.
In August, NHTSA dropped plans to require automakers to submit VIN numbers to the agency for a database and instead agreed that automakers had to provide the information on their own websites. It sounded the alarm on the use of counterfeit airbags from some unscrupulous repair shops and children left behind in hot cars. He repeatedly visited auto shows and touted automakers’ efforts to boost fuel efficiency and add safety features.
Under Strickland, the agency imposed fines on Ford Motor Co., BMW AG and Volvo — taking a much harder line with automakers who didn’t recall vehicles in a timely fashion than predecessors. The agency pressed Ford in 2011 to recall more than 1.2 million trucks for airbags deploying without warning and causing injuries.
The agency had a public fight with Chrysler Group LLC after it asked the automaker to recall 2.7 million Jeep SUVs for fire risks in June. The automaker rejected the request, saying NHTSA’s analysis was flawed, and instead agreed to install trailer hitches on 1.56 million Jeeps. The agency has been reviewing the Jeep fix for nearly six months and has offered no update on its investigation.
In 2010, NHTSA came under harsh criticism in Congress for doing little to address sudden unintended acceleration complaints in Toyota vehicles before a high-profile fatal cash in August 2009. Toyota bragged in an internal presentation that it had saved more than $100 million by avoiding more expensive comprehensive recall fixes.
Strickland, a longtime congressional aide, also helped write the 2007 energy bill, which granted authority to hike passenger car fuel efficiency standards for the first time since they were created in 1975. That bill increased fleetwide fuel efficiency standards by at least 10 miles per gallon over 10 years, to 35 mpg by 2020.
Strickland was a key part of the White House talks to hike fuel requirements — a mandate that will cost the auto industry about $150 billion. The Obama administration reached a deal with automakers in the summer of 2011 to double standards to 54.5 mpg by 2025 after reaching an earlier agreement to hike requirements to 35.5 mpg by 2016.