The benefits of public protections for everyone are dramatically illustrated by U.S. auto safety law, and Sept. 9 marks the 47th anniversary of when those lifesaving standards were first enacted. On that day in 1966, President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act and the Highway Safety Act. The legislation would save hundreds of thousands of lives in the years to come.
The standards and safeguards of modern-day motor vehicle design have been built upon those pioneering acts. They were passed in response to growing concerns at the time about the skyrocketing death rates and injuries of people in traffic accidents. Ralph Nader’s Unsafe at Any Speed, published in 1965, also had helped to focus public attention on the auto industry’s neglect of safety in favor of “power and styling.” Congressional hearings affirmed Nader’s assertions by revealing “disturbing evidence of the automobile industry’s chronic subordination of safe design to promotional styling, and of an overriding stress on power, acceleration, speed and ‘ride’ to the relative neglect of safe performance or collision protection.”
On Sept. 9, Americans can take pride in the tens of thousands of deaths and injuries that have been prevented each year since National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act and the Highway Safety Act were enacted. It is striking evidence of how corporations should not drive decisions about standards and safeguards and of why we need a regulatory system that puts people first. Regulatory protections ensure that products are safe, spur innovation, save lives and make life in America better.
For more information about the benefits of auto safety standards, see:
- Why We Had To Regulate The Auto Industry by Jake Blumgart
- The Center for Auto Safety founded by Ralph Nader in 1970, and has advocated for auto safety and consumer rights ever since
- The Cry Wolf Project
- Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety
- The Case for Regulation, excerpt on the politics of auto safety regulation, Washington Monthly, March 1995