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NHTSA exec leaves to join leadership at Amazon’s AV ride-hailing company

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National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) Director Stephen A. Ridella has announced he’s leaving his position to work with Zoox.

NHTSA didn’t respond to questions from Repairer Driven News by publication deadline, including if Ridella’s departure had to do with the negative findings of a recently released internal audit. ODI has been lagging behind in improving vehicle safety recall investigation timeliness and informing the public in a timely manner, according to the audit report.

Founded in 2014, Zoox is a mobility-as-as-service (MaaS) fully autonomous, all-electric vehicle fleet designer. The company was purchased by Amazon in 2020.

“Zoox will provide mobility-as-a-service in dense urban environments,” the company’s website states. “We will handle the driving, charging, maintenance, and upgrades for our fleet of vehicles. The rider will simply pay for the service. …We are focused on testing on private and public roads as we move towards launching the first Zoox ride-hailing service.”

Ridella posted on LinkedIn Wednesday that he is Zoox’s director of safety planning and regulatory reporting. He is no longer listed on NHTSA’s leadership personnel webpage.

“I am thrilled to join the company during this exciting time of development of the Zoox robotaxi and to work across the organization to ensure that safety remains the priority as we progress to commercial launch,” Ridella wrote. “Safety has been the focus of my entire career, and I am excited to continue this journey with my new team at Zoox.”

Reuters reports that Ridella began as ODI director in 2017, overseeing key investigations including a probe into Tesla Autopilot and whether 67 million ARC Automotive air bag inflators were defective.

NHTSA’s current chief counsel and acting administrator, Ann Carlson, was on track to take the position permanently following a nomination from Joe Biden but his administration withdrew the nomination last week. The New York Post reports that Carlson is the third Biden nomination to be withdrawn after pushback from the Senate Commerce Committee.

When Reuters asked for specificity regarding NHTSA’s personnel changes, the agency declined to comment but said it is “well positioned to continue to address safety and enforcement efforts.”

“We have a highly professional team in place and believe our enforcement and investigative work will remain strong and effective,” NHTSA told Reuters.

Carlson reportedly said it was her decision to withdraw her nomination. NHTSA has been without a Senate-confirmed administrator for much of the last six years, according to Reuters.

Associate Enforcement Administrator Anne Collins retired on April 30. According to NHTSA’s website, former associate administrator for vehicle safety research Cem Hatipoglu is now serving as acting associate administrator of enforcement and Tim Johnson has taken Hatipoglu’s role temporarily.

Prior to serving in his vehicle safety research role, Hatipoglu was the acting associate administrator of NHTSA’s National Center for Statistics and Analysis and director of the agency’s vehicle crash avoidance and electronic controls research office. No professional background information is provided on Johnson.


Featured image credit: oatawa/iStock

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