New head of National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has California ties

Steven Cliff, Administrator of NHTSA

Steven Cliff — former deputy executive officer at the California Air Resources Board — has been confirmed by the U.S. Senate as the 16th administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

NHTSA is the nation’s vehicle safety agency that sets vehicle safety standards, identifies safety defects and manages recalls, and educates Americans to help them drive, ride, and walk safely. NHTSA’s work also includes establishing fuel economy regulations and helping facilitate the testing and deployment of advanced vehicle technologies. 

Nominated by President Biden on October 19, 2021, Cliff had been serving as deputy administrator at the NHTSA. 

“From his deep academic background to his public service at the California Air Resources Board, Dr. Steven Cliff brings the experience and expertise needed to help build a safer, cleaner transportation system for all Americans,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “His leadership will be vital as NHTSA implements new strategies to save lives on our nation’s roadways, accelerates our transition to an electric vehicle future, and prepares for the impact of automation and related vehicle technologies. I congratulate Dr. Cliff on his confirmation.”  

Cliff held a variety of positions at CARB, eventually overseeing its climate program. From 2014 to 2016, he joined the California Department of Transportation as the assistant director for sustainability. He returned to CARB in 2016 when then-Governor Jerry Brown of California appointed him senior advisor to CARB’s board chair.

He also played an active role at the University of California, Davis for nearly two decades. In 2001, he joined the school’s Applied Sciences Department as a research professor, later becoming affiliated with the school’s Air Quality Research Center. He has supported independent air quality and climate research programs through the years while balancing his time at CARB, including being an approved program coordinator at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s Advanced Light Source.

He received a bachelor’s degree and a doctorate in chemistry from the University of California, San Diego. He then completed a postdoc on atmospheric sciences at the University of California, Davis’ Department of Land, Air and Water Resources.


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