Ron Medford, deputy director of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), is leaving the US government to join Google's ongoing project on self-driving cars. As the Detroit News reports, Medford will officially join Google in January, where he will serve as director of safety for driverless vehicles. The executive announced the decision in an email to NHTSA staff last week, describing the decision as "bittersweet" after more than 40 years of work in the public sector. A Google spokesperson later confirmed the hire to the Detroit News.

Medford, 64, joined the NHTSA in 2003 and was named acting deputy administrator in 2009, before the Senate confirmed his position one year later. Working under NHTSA Administrator David Strickland, he played an instrumental role in enacting safety-minded policy, and helped finalize new Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards announced in August. "He has been an indispensable part of our efforts to make cars safer, eliminate accidents caused by drunk and distracted driving, and improve fuel economy for drivers across the country," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement.

For Google, the hire underscores its commitment to self-driving vehicles, which the company first announced in 2010. The project is still in its experimental phase, though the search giant hopes to bring its cars to market within the next ten years. Lawmakers, meanwhile, are already preparing for their arrival. California passed a bill in September that allows drivers to test autonomous vehicles on state roads, following the passage of similar legislation in Nevada. The NHTSA has also begun a research project on the safety of automated driving, with Strickland telling reporters earlier this year that the technology holds "great promise" for reducing crash risk.