WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama on Tuesday nominated transportation expert Mark Rosekind to lead the top U.S. auto safety regulator, which has come under criticism this year for a perceived slow response to major scandals.
Rosekind, if confirmed by the Senate, would come to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) after spending the past four years as a member of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the agency that investigates major transportation accidents.
The White House announced the nomination on the eve of a Senate hearing into how regulators and the auto industry have handled a rapidly expanding recall over millions of potentially defective air bags manufactured by Japan's Takata Corp.
The air bags, which can rupture upon deployment and spray metal shards into cars, have been linked to at least five deaths.
Safety advocates have criticized NHTSA for not responding more quickly to years of evidence about the deadly defect.
The agency was similarly criticized for its sluggish response to more than a decade of evidence that millions of General Motors Co vehicles were equipped with a potentially deadly ignition switch flaw.
According to the NTSB's biography of Rosekind, he is "one of the world's foremost human fatigue experts" who founded Alertness Solutions, a scientific consulting firm that specializes in fatigue management.
"Mark is a leader ready-made for this critical responsibility and I expect him to hold not only the auto industry accountable, but I also expect him to help us raise the bar on safety ever higher within the U.S. Department of Transportation and among all of our stakeholders," Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement.
NHTSA has been lacking a permanent head since David Strickland resigned from the agency in December 2013.
David Friedman, the agency's deputy administrator, has been running NHTSA in the interim.
(Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Karey Van Hall, Sandra Maler and Eric Walsh)