Auto safety was not always top of mind for North American governments and automobile manufacturers. In the 1950s and 60s the carnage on the roads was massive due to unsafe vehicles and unsafe roads.
Ralph Nader’s landmark book “Unsafe at Any Speed: The Designed-In Dangers of the American Automobile” was perhaps the single largest catalyst in creating modern consumer protection. Released in late 1965, the book led to significant auto safety attention and the introduction of a number of automobile safety laws in 1966. It also contributed to the groundswell of consumer protection legislation from that era that consumers now take for granted.
In a recent interview, Science Friday’s Ira Flatlow and Nader discussed the impact his book and activism have had on North American auto safety, and his thoughts on what more can be done. The interview is available both as a podcast and a transcript.
Nader refers to auto design of the 1960s as “stylistic porn over engineering integrity” and reflects on the steps taken by himself and others to promote the application of significant research on vehicle safety design that would protect the driver and passengers in a crash.
Still involved in multiple initiatives to improve consumer protection and consumer safety at age 87, Nader has kept a sharp eye on the auto industry and notes that safety improvements have been thwarted by political influences. He notes there is still much to be done to incorporate new safety technologies such as assisted driving systems and better brakes, tires, and crash protections as standard equipment.
He believes the auto industry is a long way from solving the serious safety challenges of driverless cars and suggests that the government and industry investments in the “autonomous vehicle hype” would be better spent on constructing modern mass transit systems.