DETROIT — President Obama is nominating a transportation safety and human fatigue expert to revive the troubled agency charged with keeping the nation's highways safe.
Mark Rosekind, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board, still must be confirmed by the Senate before he can take over the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The agency has been without a formal chief since David Strickland left last December. Following Strickland's departure, NHTSA has come under fire for being too slow to react to widespread safety problems at General Motors and a growing crisis over air bags linked to multiple deaths and injuries. Lawmakers have been calling for the White House to name a new administrator to reform the agency.
Rosekind, 59, is a former NASA official who has gone to the scene to help investigate seven transportation accidents as a member of the NTSB since June of 2010. He is also a former NASA scientist and a nationally recognized expert on human fatigue. He recently conducted a special NTSB forum on drowsy driving. He also is featured prominently in a new National Geographic documentary on the dangers of sleep deprivation.
Fatigue has long been a key issue for the safety board. Operator fatigue has played a role in accidents the board has investigated across all modes of transportation.
"Mark has shown tremendous dedication to making our roads safer throughout his career and brings direct experience from the National Transportation Safety Board," Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement. "Mark is a leader ready-made for this critical responsibility."
Deputy Administrator David Friedman, who has run the agency since Strickland's departure, said he will stay on and will work with Rosekind.
Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., the incoming chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees NHTSA, said in a statement that he wants to hear Rosekind's plans "to address the rising number of motor vehicle safety recalls."
Automakers have recalled more than 50 million vehicles in the U.S. so far this year, shattering the old full-year record set in 2004.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., a frequent NHTSA critic, urged the Senate to confirm Rosekind quickly to inject fresh, consistent leadership into the agency.
"NHTSA and Dr. Rosekind will face serious challenges and must do a better job discerning danger in cases like those involving GM ignition switches and Takata airbags," Blumenthal said in a statement. He said the agency has become too close to the auto industry and failed to ask tough questions, putting lives at risk.
"I hope Dr. Rosekind can begin the process of rehabilitating this agency," Blumenthal said.
Joan Lowy contributed from Washington, D.C.