A National Transportation leader speaks to students
David Strickland is the Administrator of the United States National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which means he is the highest automotive safety official in the nation. His organization is devoted to improving the safety of the nation's roads by reducing accidents, injuries, and fatalities. Among numerous other duties, the NTHSA also regulates vehicle safety standards and fuel economy, and is a national leader in public education on issues like seat belt use, driving under the influence, and pedestrian safety.
Administrator Strickland, who grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, said he has always felt the desire to work in a career where he could help to keep people safe from harm, even since he was a young boy, when he "desperately wanted to be a firefighter. ... to save people."
By the time he was a young man, he had become inspired to study law, and proceeded to receive his undergraduate degree from Northwestern. Shortly thereafter, he attended Harvard Law, and became a practicing lawyer. He quickly switched gears, however, and followed his passion for ensuring people's safety by working for an association as an advocate for consumer rights and safety.
“I really wanted to see what I could do to try to make people’s lives better through my education and my background," he told Fast Forward. "Transportation, it really is the opportunity for public service and for innovation, and for engineering and science, and human behavior. It?s a mixture of these wonderful things that really improve people?s lives every single day."
Eventually, Strickland's hard work and consumer safety expertise landed him a position on the staff of the U.S. senate, where in 2007 he achieved what he called one of his proudest accomplishments by helping to pass the nation's first-ever bill to increase fuel economy standards on all newly-manufactured vehicles in the U.S.
"It was something that would make everybody’s life better for decades to come,” he said. “It was a combination of perseverance and hard work, and a little bit of luck, but when it was all said and done it led to not only the passage of the increase in fuel economy standards in the congress in 2007, but it also was a foundation for President Obama to increase fuel economy standards even more when he came into office in 2008.”
Strickland was sworn into office as the 14th Administrator of the NHTSA in 2010, where now helps to save countless lives each day through his organization's duties. One international example of a recent NHTSA safety success was a partnership with the United Nations that implemented Electronic Stability Control (ESC) in newly manufactured cars around the globe. ESC is a technology that can automatically apply the brakes in an event that a driver loses control of the vehicle. The technology has already saved tens of thousands of lives on the road globally. Currently, the NHTSA is investigating cutting-edge technologies that will enable automobiles to detect and avoid collisions before they can even occur.
“The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is always working on a number of initiatives to try to make cars and drivers safer,” Strickland said. “We are now in the future of having a number of technologies where, as opposed to protecting a person when the crash happens, to keep the crash from ever happening. ? We’re at the very beginning ? these technologies are just going to get bigger and more effective as the years go on.”
Strickland said he felt his career path had brought him to a place where he could fulfill his desire to make an impact by helping others. He listed his grandparents, who he said were the "smartest people he ever knew," as well as the recently deceased senator Daniel Inouye, who Strickland knew personally and called "one of the greatest United States Senators that ever lived," as sources of inspiration throughout his successful career. He was also inspired by the African American inventor Garrett Morgan, who invented the traffic light.
“Anything he saw in the world that he thought he could make a little bit safer, he devoted his life to,” Strickland said about Morgan. People like Morgan, Strickland added, inspire him to make the biggest difference he can in people's lives.
When asked about his advice for students, the Administrator suggested that they remain open-minded, and let their interests guide them to a great career, just as his deep interest in protecting others helped lead him to a career in which he could naturally succeed.
“Your path is what is your passion, what you believe in, and how you truly feel you can make a difference. ... People that really feel deeply about something ... always succeed in it. ... The one thing I would always say is to keep your mind open, keep your heart open, because you never know where your path may take you."
To learn more about Administrator Strickland or the NHTSA and its mission, you can visit the NHTSA website.