Deborah Hersman

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Person.png Deborah Hersman  Rdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
Deborah Hersman NTSB Chairman.jpeg
BornMay 7, 1970
Edwards Air Force Base, California, U.S.
Alma materVirginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, George Mason University
ParentsWalter C Hersma
Investigated collision of two Washington Metro trains and over 25 major transportation incidents.

Deborah A.P. Hersman is a former board member of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board. She completed two terms as chairman and was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on October 16, 2013, for a third term. On March 11, 2014, she announced she would join the National Safety Council as its president and CEO.[1] She is currently the chief safety officer at Waymo.[2]

Personal life

She is the eldest daughter of retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Walter C Hersman, who was a Defense Intelligence Agency operative[3]. She has two sisters. She was born in California and lived with her family in places such as Amman, Jordan, Madrid, Spain, as well as Woodbridge, England and numerous states. She attended 4 different high schools. By the time she turned 17, the Hersmans had settled in Northern Virginia[4] where she attended Chantilly High School. She was a student pilot and soloed but did not complete her training.[5][6]

In 1992, she earned Bachelor of Arts degrees in Political Science and International Studies from Virginia Tech. In 2000, she earned an M.S. in Conflict Analysis and Resolution from George Mason University.[7] Hersman is married to her high school sweetheart and former Virginia Tech classmate, Niel Plummer.[8] They have three sons.[6]


She began her government career on the staff of West Virginia Congressman Bob Wise as an unpaid intern during the summer of her sophomore year at Virginia Tech.[8] She rose from intern to office manager and then to senior legislative aide. While working for Wise, Hersman dealt with a series of coal train derailments near Point Pleasant, West Virginia. Wise said, "She has a backbone. Don't ever think that you are ever going to push her over."[6]

In 1999, she left Wise's office to join the staff of the United States Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.[7] Her efforts contributed to the passage of milestone bills such as the Motor Carrier Safety Improvement Act of 1999, Pipeline Safety Improvement Act of 2002, Transportation Equity Act of the 21st Century and Amtrak Reform and Accountability Act.[9]

In 2004, Hersman was appointed as a board member of the NTSB by President George W. Bush. In 2009, President Barack Obama reappointed her to a second five-year term and appointed her to a two-year term as chairman, making her, at age 39, one of the youngest to ever to fill that position.[10] President Obama reappointed Hersman as chairman in 2011, and in August 2013, he nominated her for a third term as chairman and for a third term as a board member. Pending Senate confirmation, the President designated Hersman to serve as vice chairman, making her acting chairman of the NTSB.[11] Her nomination was confirmed by voice vote on October 16, 2013.[12]

As a board member, Hersman traveled with NTSB teams investigating major accidents ranging from the collision of two Washington Metro trains to the mid-air collision of a sightseeing helicopter and single-engine airplane over the Hudson River in New York City.[13] She investigated over 25 major transportation incidents during her tenure at the NTSB. Among her many initiatives as chairman, Ms. Hersman focused on distracted driving, child passenger safety and helping victims and their families.

Deborah Hersman with British chairs Keith Conradi and Carolyn Griffiths, London year 2014

Working as chair of the NTSB she met up with her counterparts in other countries, e.g. the United Kingdom.

Since 2014, Hersman has led the nonprofit National Safety Council, based in Itasca, Illinois as its president and CEO.[14] She was awarded the 2015 Sentinel of Safety Award by the National Air Traffic Controllers Association for her dedication to transportation and aviation safety.[15] She was recognized by NHTSA Public Service Award in 2016.[16] In 2017, Hersman was appointed by former Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx to serve on the Department of Transportation Advisory Committee on Automation in Transportation. The advisory panel was established to provide counsel regarding technology implementation that can save lives and help eliminate preventable fatalities in all modes of transportation.[17] Hersman chaired the Road to Zero Coalition led by the National Safety Council, The U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Federal Highway Administration and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. The Coalition aims to end roadway fatalities within 30 years by a strategy that combines education, engineering, enforcement and emergency medical services.[18] She stepped down when she left the National Safety Council in January 2019 to lead the safety team at Waymo.


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