Carlson to step down as NHTSA’s acting administrator

December 18, 2023

Mark Schremmer

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Ann Carlson, the acting leader of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, will soon be leaving the agency.

According to reports, Carlson is poised to leave her post on Dec. 26.

President Joe Biden nominated Carlson in February to lead NHTSA, following the departure of Steven Cliff. However, Biden withdrew that nomination in May after Carlson failed to receive Senate confirmation. Reuters is reporting that NHTSA Deputy Administrator Sophie Shulman will take over as the agency’s acting leader.

Carlson has served as NHTSA’s acting administrator since September 2022. Before leading the agency, Carlson served as NHTSA’s chief counsel. She also taught environmental law at the UCLA School of Law and founded the Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at UCLA.

Her tenure has been marked with criticism from Republicans for support of regulations pushing for electric vehicles. In addition, Carlson has been in charge of NHTSA as it has worked toward controversial rulemakings in trucking, such as side underride guards and automatic emergency brakes.

In April, NHTSA issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking that considered requiring side underride guards on trailers. Safety groups have long advocated for the requirement, while opponents point to the cost-benefit analysis and the feasibility. The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, which represents small-business truckers, said that an underride guard mandate would be “premature and shortsighted.”

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and NHTSA published a joint proposal in July that would require AEB systems and electronic stability control systems on new vehicles that weigh more than 10,000 pounds.

At a House subcommittee hearing last week, several members of Congress questioned Carlson about problems with AEB technology.

Rep. Troy Nehls, R-Texas, cited the October 2023 issue of Land Line Magazine, which features a story about truck driver Carrie Moore’s experience with AEB technology while driving on a snowy Michigan highway in 2022. Moore said a false activation from the emergency brakes caused her truck to jackknife and nearly crash into a median.

“(The article) talks about one of the truck drivers,” Nehls told Carlson during the House Highways and Transit subcommittee hearing on Wednesday, Dec. 13. “It was either a shadow or the guardrail that caused her to lose control, and this thing scared the hell out of her … This can be very, very dangerous … You need to read this when it talks about these brakes and how dangerous it’s going to be.”

NHTSA is scheduled to release a final rule on automatic emergency braking systems in April. LL