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NHTSA executive joins Google to build driverless cars

If you were looking to progress autonomous cars from the experimental stage to the mainstream implementation stage, the deputy director of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is someone you’d want on your team, Ernst writes.

By Kurt ErnstGuest blogger / November 22, 2012

Google co-founder Sergey listens to California Gov. Edmund G Brown Jr. during a bill signing for driverless cars at Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., in this September 2012 file photo. The deputy director of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is bound for Google, where he will assume the role of director of safety for self-driving cars, Ernst writes.

Eric Risberg/AP/File

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Ron Medford is currently the deputy director of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which makes him second in command of the agency responsible for establishing motorvehicle safety standards.

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Medford has been involved with the federal government for over four decades, and has had a hand in both the upcoming Corporate Average Fuel Economy requirements as well as key NHTSA safety investigations in recent years.

In other words, if you were looking to progress autonomous cars from the experimental stage to the mainstream implementation stage, Ron Medford is a man you’d want on your team.

As The Detroit News reports, Medford will vacate his NHTSA post in January, bound for Google, Inc., where he will assume the role of director of safety for self-driving cars. Though eager to assume his new role, Medford is “bittersweet,” in his own words, over leaving the NHTSA. 

“While I am excited to embark on this new adventure, I am deeply saddened to leave this agency and the many incredible staff who have committed your lives to making people safer on our roadways,” Medford was on record as saying.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood recognized Medford for his service, saying, “I often say that safety is the number one priority at the Department of Transportation, and no one individual has worked harder to protect the safety of the traveling public than Ron Medford.”

Though Medford only joined the NHTSA in 2003, the bulk of his government career was spent at the Consumer Product Safety Commission. He joins Google at a near ideal time, as the NHTSA is currently writing a research project outline that will eventually establish standards and regulations for autonomous cars.

Google’s efforts to design driverless cars have led to legislation in three states (CaliforniaNevada and Florida) that will eventually permit their use on public roads. The technology company has racked up some 300,000 miles testing autonomous vehicles, which it views as a necessary next step in the evolution of transportation.

Even the NHTSA agrees, with administrator David Strickland on record as saying the technology could one day save thousands of lives. To get there, the agency must work with private sector companies like Google, and no one is better suited to fostering communication between these entities than Ron Medford.

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