On 50th Anniversary of Ralph Nader’s ‘Unsafe at Any Speed,’ Safety Group Reports Auto Safety Regulation Has Saved 3.5 Million Lives

On 50th Anniversary of Ralph Nader’s ‘Unsafe at Any Speed,’ Safety Group Reports Auto Safety Regulation Has Saved 3.5 Million Lives

On 50th Anniversary of Ralph Nader’s ‘Unsafe at Any Speed,’ Safety Group Reports Auto Safety Regulation Has Saved 3.5 Million Lives

The crusading consumer advocate’s work launched Congressional hearings and seminal safety protections.


Contact: Caitlin Graf, The Nation, press[at]thenation.com, 212-209-5400

Clarence Ditlow, The Center for Auto Safety, 202-328-7700

New York, NY – December 1, 2015 Based on an exclusive new analysis of deaths per mile driven, the Center for Auto Safety (CAS) and The Nation, America’s premiere weekly magazine of progressive politics and culture, today announced that auto safety-related measures—the 1966 federal laws, federal agency and general measures they created—have averted 3.5 million auto deaths over the past 50 years.

The data, compiled by CAS executive director Clarence Ditlow and timed to the 50th anniversary of the publication of Ralph Nader’s Unsafe At Any Speed, is exclusively reported in “How Ralph Nader Changed America,” a Nation profile of the crusading consumer advocate by Mark Green. It will be published in the December 21/28, 2015 edition of the magazine and be accompanied by an interview between Nader and national affairs correspondent John Nichols.

“3.5 million represents the difference between the number of deaths that there would have been if the death rate had stayed at 5.50 per hundred million VMT (vehicle miles traveled) in 1966 versus what it went down to in each subsequent year, falling to 1.07 by 2014,”* said Ditlow. “Deaths have been saved by traffic laws (seat belt use, helmet and drunk driving laws), safer roads, vehicle safety standards and vehicle safety improvements spurred by consumer demand for more safety after Unsafe at Any Speed.” [*See chart below.]

“CHART: Analysis of Lives Saved by Lower Vehicle Death Rates

Green, who worked for Nader in Washington, DC, from 1970-1980 and later became the first elected Public Advocate of New York City, added: “These 3.5 million American lives saved over five decades by auto regulation reducing auto-related death rates by 80 percent—as many saved per year as were killed in the entire Vietnam War—is a persuasive numerical rebuttal to all who glibly denounce ‘big government.’ Would they maintain their disdain if shown to among the 3.5 million? The issue is not the size of government but how a smart democracy can successfully save millions of lives.”

The Nation published Nader’s first article on auto safety, “The Safe Car You Can’t Buy,” on April 11, 1959, when he was just one year out of Harvard Law School. [Read an excerpt.] This article would provide the basis for Unsafe at Any Speed, which in turn helped launch the consumer-rights movement.

Until the fall of 1966, there was no federal regulatory law or agency protecting them from death and injury on the nation’s highways. In that year, 50,894 people were killed and 1.9 million injured. Prior to 1966, over 1.6 million people had been killed in motor vehicle accidents in the United States before the Congress passed two landmark pieces of legislation that year—the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act and its companion bill, the Highway Safety Act. If the 1966 fatality rate of 5.50 deaths per hundred million vehicle miles traveled (VMT) had continued, 167,956 people would have been killed in vehicle crashes in 2014. Instead, the death rate was 1.07—a decline of 80 percent over 50 years—with 32,675 killed.

In 1965, the publication of Nader’s Unsafe at Any Speed exposed the deplorable safety records of auto companies. The book—and subsequent investigation of the author by General Motors—led to Congressional hearings overseen by Senators Warren Magnuson and Abraham Ribicoff. At the Senate hearing, GM President James Roche apologized to Mr. Nader for his company’s probes. Within a few months, the Senate and House unanimously passed the Vehicle Safety and Highway Safety Acts, which were signed by President Lyndon Johnson on September 16, who stated: “In this century, more than one and a half million of our fellow citizens have died on our streets and highways; nearly three times as many Americans as we have lost in all our wars. . . . I’m proud at this moment to sign these bills—which promise, in the years to come, to cure the highway disease: to end the years of horror and give us years of hope.”

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About the Center for Auto Safety:

Consumers Union and Ralph Nader founded the Center for Auto Safety (CAS) in 1970 to provide consumers a voice for auto safety and quality in Washington and to help lemon owners fight back across the country. CAS has a small budget but a big impact on the auto industry. With less than half what General Motors spends on a single Super Bowl commercial, CAS has taken on the auto giants and won for consumers. Its many accomplishments include lemon laws in every state; recall of the infamous Ford Pinto for exploding gas tanks and the Firestone 500 tire for tread separation; exposure of GM Firebomb pickups with side saddle gas tanks that burned over 1,000 people to death; state laws to force disclosure of secret warranties on cars that can save consumers billions of dollars each year; safety and highway standards that have dropped the death rate on America’s road from 5.2 per 100 million vehicles mile traveled in 1969 to 1.1 in 2010; and numerous legal victories over government agencies that have saved vital consumer, safety and environmental laws under assault by industry.

About The Nation:

Founded in 1865, The Nation is America’s oldest weekly magazine, serving as a critical, independent voice in American journalism and a platform for investigative reporting and spirited debate on issues of import to the progressive community. Through changing times and fashions, The Nation and TheNation.com offer consistently informed and inspired reporting and analysis of breaking news, politics, social issues and the arts—never faltering in our editorial commitment to what Nation Publisher Emeritus Victor Navasky has called “a dissenting, independent, trouble-making, idea-launching journal of critical opinion.”


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