Today, on the 55th anniversary of Ralph Nader's landmark "Unsafe at Any Speed," about the built-in dangers of 1960s cars, as exemplified by the General Motors Corvair, his colleagues led by Joan Claybrook have published a new report: "Safer Vehicles and Highways: 4.2 million U.S. Lives Spared Since 1966." The report makes recommendations to President-elect Joe Biden about how to revitalize and strengthen the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which Claybrook ran during the Jimmy Carter administration.
Here is a backgrounder on the original book, the "contemptible investigation" and other actions taken by GM to attempt to smear Mr. Nader, and the resulting changes to auto and highway safety law. The backgrounder finishes with a list of some of the organizations that he founded, or inspired, including the state PIRGs.
Among the report's recommendations to President-elect Biden:
"1. Appoint an Independent new NHTSA Leader and Drastically Increase Funding: President Biden must select a tough, independent Administrator not linked to the auto industry with the capacity to revitalize National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and restock its inadequate technical personnel and meager coffers. [...] Ninety-five percent of transportation deaths occur on the highways yet NHTSA gets only 1% of the Department of Transportation budget.
"2. Immediately Require New Electronic Systems to Automatically Help Prevent Crashes: NHTSA should immediately require, as standard equipment, one of the most promising new vehicle safety protections in decades: advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) that assist drivers to avoid crashes, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) by 20 to 55%.
"5. Enforce the Law Requiring Recall of Safety Defective Vehicles: In the 55 years since publication of Unsafe at Any Speed, manufacturers have recalled over 500 million defective vehicles, but they continue efforts to minimize expensive recall costs by delay, narrowing the scope of a recall, or denying the defect. [...] Another key issue is the lack of a federal prohibition on the sale of used cars subject to a recall. [Note: the state PIRGs have been very active on this auto safety issue, in particular.] Transparency at NHTSA and by manufacturers continues to be a problem despite endless FOIA requests filed by the Center for Auto Safety. And manufacturers still attempt to conduct “service campaigns” to fix the vehicle as a substitute for a legal recall with its specific time and public reporting requirements."
The full report, with 7 other detailed recommendations, is dedicated to the late Clarence Ditlow, the longtime director of the Center for Auto Safety and dauntless consumer champion.
Learn more about U.S. PIRG's Transform Transportation campaign.
Photo at right by author: Corvair on display at Ralph Nader's Tort Museum, Winsted, Connecticut.