WASHINGTON -- The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has confirmed David Friedman, previously a transportation analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists, as its new deputy administrator.
Friedman, an engineer by training who has pushed for stricter fuel economy standards and lower oil consumption while working at the advocacy group, replaces Ron Medford, who left NHTSA last year to lead Google Inc.'s self-driving cars project.
NHTSA Administrator David Strickland made the announcement today during a congressional hearing on crash-prevention features and other new technologies that could boost the safety of cars.
During the hearing, Strickland said the agency is getting closer to calling for automatic braking.
Automatic braking systems use a camera or radar system to detect oncoming vehicles and objects and then apply the brakes if the driver fails to do so.
Automakers such as Volvo and Mercedes-Benz have started to offer such features in their high-end cars or as optional equipment, earning praise from groups such as the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which says Volvo's "City Safety" system appears to be effective at preventing crashes in stop-and-start traffic.
In a report released last month, the institute said insurance claims are being filed about 16 percent less often for S60 sedans equipped with the feature than for other mid-sized luxury cars and 15 percent less often for the XC60 than for comparable luxury SUVs.
In an effort to hasten the adoption of such technologies, NHTSA ordered automakers to outfit all cars with electronic stability control starting in the 2011 model year.
A similar mandate for automatic braking could be next. Strickland told reporters after the hearing that NHTSA could end up ordering the use of automatic braking or merely recommend it through the federal government's New Car Assessment Program.
The agency also could decide to do more research on the subject.
Strickland said agency staffers "are working through that right now, and they'll be bringing it to me for an agency decision this year."