Half a century ago, a book was released that changed the American automobile industry forever. Written by Ralph Nader “Unsafe at Any Speed: The Designed-In Dangers of the American Automobile” the book hit the automobile industry hard with accusations of a profound lack of concern for the safety of the motoring public.
More than just about the Corvair
As Kindle Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram explain Nader’s book is often tied to an extremely critical review of the Corvair, a rear-engine, air-cooled compact car made in the 1960s by Chevrolet, the book was truly an indictment of the entire industry. Nader included chapters on the pollution concerns from internal combustion engines, lack of devices such as seat belts and the lack in many cars of any sort of safety testing at all.
Worst of all, the book explored the concept that designers, engineers and automotive executives did not seem terribly concerned about most of the dangerous issues involved with their automotive products. The last chapter of Unsafe, in particular, discussed the difficult battle safety advocates faced, and how if nothing changed, that eventually one out of two Americans would be injured or killed in a car accident.
Maybe not so good for America
The book is a fact-filled masterpiece of its time that vaulted Nader into a legal career of questioning the motives behind the policy and practice of the automotive industry for several generations. “Unsafe” dispelled the once famous comment by a General Motors executive that “What was good for General Motors was good for America.
As the decades since show, the auto industry actually should be happy that Nader published his book when he did, pushing for safety items that all of the carmakers were forced to adopt. Because the advent of automotive safety engineering, the automotive manufacturers have potentially saved millions of dollars in future lawsuits. Here’s a fact to consider. In 1980, 23 people out of 100,000 died annually in car crashes. Today, thanks to federal safety regulations, the rate is less than 10 per 100,000.
Nader is still concerned
“The auto industry wants to turn the car into an entertainment center,” Nader recently commented. He is especially concerned that all the multitasking that occurs in a car can be distracting and the car manufacturers should make sure that their accessories and gadgets don’t interfere with the basic concept of safe driving.