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Trump Is Finally Filling the Top U.S. Traffic Safety Regulator Job

The federal agency charged with making vehicles safer and reducing accidents may finally have a chief. President Donald Trump has nominated Heidi King to lead the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a position that has sat vacant for 15 months.

If approved by the U.S. Senate, King should have an easy transition. She is already deputy NHTSA administrator and has acted as interim chief since September.

King’s predecessor Mark Rosekind, who was appointed by former President Barack Obama, left the top U.S. safety regulator position after Trump was elected. Rosekind is now chief safety innovation officer at Zoox, a secretive autonomous vehicle startup in Silicon Valley.

The position leading the NHTSA is more important than ever as motor vehicle deaths continue to hover above 40,000 annually, the Takata airbag recall issue persists, automakers lobby for weaker fuel economy regulations, and a hundreds of companies race to deploy autonomous vehicles.

An estimated 40,100 people died in motor vehicle accidents on U.S. roads in 2017, a 1% dip from the prior year, according to preliminary data from the National Safety Council. There were 40,327 motor vehicle deaths in 2016, the deadliest year on U.S. roads since 2007, the NSC says.

King’s credentials appear well aligned with the position. King was a regulatory policy analyst in the White House’s Office of Management and Budget under former presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama. She also worked in the private sector, including at Pfizer and then global director of environmental risk at GE. King also was chief economist on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

King also was a volunteer emergency medical technician for the Chatham Emergency Squad in Chatham, N.J. for seven years, likely giving her the kind of first-hand encounters with traffic accidents that may prove valuable in her new position.