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Head of U.S. auto safety agency to step down

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - David L. Strickland, who oversaw a massive Toyota recall and helped formulate plans to dramatically boost U.S. fuel efficiency standards as head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, is stepping down, his office said on Thursday.

The date of Strickland's departure was not announced but the NHTSA said his deputy, David Friedman, would be acting director.

Strickland became chief of the NHTSA in January 2010 after eight years as counsel to a subcommittee of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, which has oversight of the NHTSA.

Shortly after taking the NHTSA job, Strickland found himself dealing with a Toyota recall that eventually covered more than 2 million vehicles in the United States because of unintended acceleration, attributed to problems with floor mats and gas pedals.

The NHTSA fined Toyota $32 million for delays in notifying the agency and correcting the acceleration problems. The agency also stepped up its enforcement of recall regulations to make them more timely.

Strickland also served as the Obama administration's point man in getting automakers to agree to nearly double fuel efficiency standards to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. Thirteen auto companies, including General Motors Co, Ford Motor Co, Chrysler, Toyota Motor Corp and Honda Motor Co, agreed to the plan.

"David Strickland has an impressive list of accomplishments during his time at NHTSA," said Karl Brauer, a senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book. "He's clearly a passionate safety advocate that brought that passion to the role.

"While several unresolved issues remain on David Strickland's docket ... he would likely never find a moment where all open cases are resolved. The agency has survived changes in leadership before, and it should survive this one without letting anything fall between the cracks."

(Reporting by Bill Trott and Bernie Woodall; Editing by Nick Zieminski)

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