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Acting NHTSA administrator is stepping down

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Ann Carlson, acting head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said Friday she is leaving her role on Dec. 26, Reuters reported Friday. Carlson oversaw numerous NHTSA investigations into Tesla’s Autopilot driver assist system, as well as ongoing efforts to require automakers to improve fuel economy.

NHTSA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

According to Reuters, Carlson told employees in an email that she is stepping down due to a law limiting how long officials can remain in a temporary role. She previously served as NHTSA’s chief counsel, where she helped advance the agency’s oversight of vehicles equipped with automated driving systems and advanced driver assistance systems.

NHTSA Deputy Administrator Sophie Shulman will replace Carlson as acting administrator. She previously served as deputy chief of staff for policy at the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Carlson has served as acting NHTSA administrator since September 2022. The Biden administration submitted Carlson as its nominee for permanent NHTSA administrator in March 2023 but withdrew her nomination in May after Congress opposed the agency’s plans to toughen fuel economy standards.

Still, the Biden administration appointed her as acting NHTSA administrator, even though her appointment violated the Federal Vacancies Reform Act.

In September, Sen. Ted Cruz led Republican committees in sending a letter to President Joe Biden that called out the administration for violating the Vacancies Act in reappointing Carlson to continue as acting NHTSA administrator.

In addition, the senators asserted that NHTSA’s proposed Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards for model years 2027-2032 for passenger cars and light trucks are invalid as Carlson’s appointment as acting administrator was illegal. Automakers also slammed the NHTSA’s proposed fuel economy proposals, saying the strict mandates are not technologically feasible.

NHTSA’s ongoing investigations into the safety of Tesla Autopilot automated driving systems led to the largest recall in the automaker’s history last week, covering around two million vehicles equipped with Autosteer built from Oct. 5, 2012, through Dec. 7, 2023.

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