WASHINGTON -- The departure of David Strickland as head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will leave his successor to oversee such high-profile tasks as investigating Tesla battery fires and developing guidelines for wireless communications among vehicles.
Strickland, 45, NHTSA's chief since early 2010, was a key player in the federal investigation into alleged unintended acceleration in Toyota vehicles and in negotiating fuel economy standards with the auto industry. The agency confirmed his resignation last week.
Strickland's top deputy, David Friedman, will be acting administrator until a successor is named. Friedman is a fuel economy expert who worked at the advocacy group Union of Concerned Scientists before joining NHTSA in May.
Strickland sharpened NHTSA's focus on advanced safety features that can prevent vehicle crashes. This year NHTSA released the first guidelines for autonomous vehicles.
Strickland also supported automatic braking and wireless vehicle-to-vehicle communications. He had pledged to take action on both by year end.
He had a reputation among auto industry leaders as a "gracious and fair administrator," said Mitch Bainwol, CEO of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.
"He didn't always agree with us," Bainwol said, "but we always felt we could make our pitch, and when he disagreed, we understood exactly why."