Acting Director of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: Who Is David Friedman?

Monday, October 20, 2014

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Deputy Administrator David J. Friedman became the agency’s acting director on December 12, 2013, upon the resignation of the former administrator, David L. Strickland. Friedman is a native of Rhode Island and attended Worcester Polytechnic Institute, where he earned a B.S. in mechanical engineering in 1992.

 

Friedman is a curious choice to work for the NHTSA. His background is alternative fuels and clean vehicles, with only a little experience working with automotive safety issues. His first job after graduating college was with Arthur D. Little, a consulting firm in Cambridge, Massachusetts. There, he researched fuel cells and hybrid vehicle technologies.

 

He later moved to California to work and study at University of California-Davis, where he worked on the fuel cell vehicle modeling program and pursued graduate studies. In 2001, Friedman joined the Union of Concerned Scientists, first as a senior engineer and later as research director and deputy director of the clean vehicles program. He primarily worked on automotive environmental issues, but also studied mass-size safety interactions. His team’s work on fuel economy led in 2007 to the first legislative change in NHTSA’s Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards since they were created in 1975.

 

On May 15, 2013, Friedman was named deputy administrator of the NHTSA, which led to his current post as acting administrator. It hasn’t been an easy time for him. Friedman has appeared before congressional committees on several automotive safety issues, particularly the General Motors ignition switch failures. In April 2014, Friedman was bashed at a House of Representatives hearing on the matter after saying that the NHTSA didn’t act because GM hadn’t told the agency of the problem. In addition, Friedman admitted not knowing that his agency has subpoena power. He told the panel that his agency didn’t investigate crashes of the GM cars affected by the switch problems because their injury rate wasn’t significantly higher than that of other cars.

 

Friedman was grilled in September 2014 by a Senate committee on the GM problem. Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri) pointed out to Friedman that consumers had complained about the failing ignition switches and a Wisconsin state trooper had warned NHTSA of the defective ignition switches. “Why can't you take responsibility?” McCaskill asked Friedman. “You have got to take some responsibility that this isn't being handled correctly for the American driving public.”

 

Friedman and his wife, Betsy, have one son.

-Steve Straehley

 

To Learn More:

Official Biography

David Friedman Designs a Safer, More Fuel-Efficient Automobile (by Joe and Diane Devanney, Progressive Engineer Profiles)

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