Ralph Nader Calls for Safety in the Auto Industry Part 2

About the journalist and muckraker Ralph Nader who wrote an expose on safety in the auto industry.



But it was cheaper for the auto industry to blame the carnage on lead-footed drivers than on poor design. As long as the courts always placed the onus on the driver, why change? Replacing style with safety as the major design aim would cost money. People didn't want safe cars anyhow, said the auto companies.

Nader argued that car makers had to supply safe cars whether the public wanted tem or not. The public didn't know how safe cars should and could be, because nobody told them. The academic and private safety researchers who analyzed the curable hazards of the automobile were not consumer activists and therefore apparently felt no compelling desire to warn the public.

The hefty advertising budgets of the auto industry discouraged damaging publicity in the press. Nader's article appeared in a feisty, liberal weekly with a history of muckraking and no car advertising--not a Detroit newspaper.

Nader's expose didn't require extraordinary research methods; the information didn't have to be stolen from secret corporate files in midnight raids. The auto industry's callousness was there for anyone to see in the mountains of trade and research documents.

Unlike many muckrakers, Nader wasn't content to be just a gadfly. He wanted to change the status quo. He continued to write harangues about the automobile industry--his 1965 bestseller, Unsafe at Any Speed, cataloged hundreds of pages' worth of examples of Detroit's unconcern with safety--but he also lobbied on Capitol Hill for federal laws regulating car safety. He helped mold the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act passed by Congress in 1966.

Since then, Nader has remained at the vanguard of consumerism. He is given credit for passage of federal laws regulating gas pipelines, radiation dangers, food packaging, and coalmine safety, and for organizing the Center for Study of Responsive Law.

In Print: In a message similar to others he would deliver against industries in future crusades, Nader wrote in his ground-breaking article in the Apr. 11, 1959, edition of The Nation:

"In brief, automobiles are so designed as to be dangerous at any speed. . . . In a word, the job, in part, is to make accidents safe. . . . .

"Innumerable precedents show that the consumer must be protected at times from his own indiscretion and vanity."

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