Monday, November 30, 2015

1571 Unsafe at Any Speed

1571 (Correct) Unsafe at Any Speed

“I don’t like Ralph Nader and I didn’t like the book. But there was definitely a role for government in automotive safety.” -- Retired multicompany auto executive Bob Lutz quoted in the New York Times.

The book “Unsafe at Any Speed” has turned 50. It catapulted Nader into the national spotlight, a place from which, mercifully, he has withdrawn.

What got everyone’s attention in 1965 was the first chapter.  It said, in effect, that a moving Chevrolet Corvair would roll over on command more easily than would an obedient and well trained cocker spaniel.

The Corvair was General Motors’ answer to the original Volkswagen Beetle, a small economy car with its engine in the back.  GM tried to bring Nader down by putting a private eye on his tail in hopes he’d do something scandalous.  He did of course, but not then and not the kind of scandalosity they were hoping for.  More about that a little later.

Nader’s belief in far fewer and far less sensational words than he used was simple. Someone has to keep track of the car makers to guard against making design and engineering flawed death traps.

A good point and it worked.

The Johnson administration created an agency to set safety standards.  It was something the auto industry couldn’t seem to do for itself.

Example:  Preston Tucker’s “Torpedo” stressed safety with things previously unheard of… like padded dashboards.

It was a flop when introduced in 1948.  The few cars actually produced now routinely sell for close to $3- million.

In 1956, Ford offered previously unavailable safety features in its passenger models.  They didn’t sell well either.

Now, of course, we wouldn’t consider buying a car without a dozen airbags, decent head restraints, padded dashboards and excellent seatbelts.

But they’re still mass producing death traps, although  fewer now than 50 years ago.  And in a way we now accept safety, high gas mileage and low emissions as birthrights.

Nader refused to quit while he was ahead. He went on to found group after group of questionable merit to deal with questionable causes questionably. Fortunately most were outlived by fruit flies.

Now, about scandalous behavior: the “unsafe” book turned Nader into a leftist cult figure and that cult figure, gave us the first four years of George W. Bush.

And that was a scandal we could have and should have avoided.

Shrapnel:

--Where are the Republican presidential candidates on the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood shootings? Last we heard they were still figuring out how to defund the organization as part of their war of a thousand bites on abortion, which they see as killing babies.  What about these kinds of killings and woundings, people?

Note to readers:  Being unable to count beyond my fingers and toes, I’ve used the numbers 1530-1539 each for two different posts.  This post restores the accurate numbers. WR.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to wesrichards@gmail.com
© WJR 2015

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