Steven Cliff leaving NHTSA to become California Air Resources...

Steven Cliff leaving NHTSA to become California Air Resources Board executive officer

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WASHINGTON — NHTSA chief Steven Cliff is leaving the nation’s top auto safety regulator and will join the California Air Resources Board as its executive officer on Sept. 12, the state regulatory agency said Friday.

Ann Carlson, NHTSA’s chief counsel, will assume Cliff’s duties when he leaves the agency next month, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a statement.

Cliff was confirmed by the Senate on May 26 — only 78 days ago — as NHTSA’s 16th administrator. The agency had been without a permanent leader since 2017, when Mark Rosekind resigned as the Trump administration took over.

He previously was the agency’s deputy administrator — a role he had filled since shortly after President Joe Biden was inaugurated in 2021, a year that saw 1,093 issued recalls, “the most in NHTSA’s history,” Cliff told Automotive News last month.

“This is an exciting time in transportation, and I am grateful that Congress has provided NHTSA with unprecedented resources to leverage technology to advance safety for all road users and help drivers save money at the pump,” Cliff said in a statement Friday. 

“I see my appointment to CARB as placing me in a unique position to work with California, other states and our federal partners to build on the president’s vision to support the transition to zero-emission cars, trucks and equipment,” he continued.

Before joining NHTSA, Cliff was deputy executive officer for the California Air Resources Board, where he oversaw a program regulating vehicle emissions. He began his career at CARB in 2008 as an air pollution specialist.

Under Cliff, NHTSA released first-of-its-kind data on crashes linked to advanced driver-assistance systems and fully automated driving systems and set more stringent rules on vehicle fuel economy.

NHTSA also has escalated its scrutiny of Tesla’s Autopilot, as evidenced by a recently upgraded investigation into the electric vehicle maker’s advanced driver-assistance system after a series of crashes in the U.S. that resulted in more than a dozen injuries and one death.

Cliff is a Napa Valley, Calif., native.  

CARB Chair Liane Randolph said Cliff is “the right choice” to implement the board’s vision, especially as it develops regulations to phase out the sale of new gasoline-powered cars and light trucks and achieve 100 percent ZEV sales by the 2035 model year.

“His experience developing programs and incentives to promote zero-emission vehicles that protect communities from harmful air pollution and his support for sustainable transportation and mobility options ensure a continued focus at CARB on equity that delivers low-carbon solutions where they are most needed,” she said in a statement.

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