The Safe Car You Can’t Buy

Ralph Nader, The Safe Car You Can’t Buy. The Nation, 11 April 1959. “The Article that Launched the Consumer-Rights Movement…. It is clear that Detroit today [1959] is designing automobiles for style, cost, performance and calculated obsolescence, but not for safety.”

Doors that fly open on impact, inadequately secured seats, the sharp-edged rearview mirror, pointed knobs on instrument panel and doors, flying glass, the overhead structure—all illustrate the lethal potential of poor design…. Automobiles are so designed as to be dangerous at any speed.

Our preoccupation has been with the cause of accidents seen in terms of the driver and not with the instruments that produce the injuries. Erratic driving will always be characteristic of the traffic scene; exhortation and stricter law enforcement have at best a limited effect. Much more significant for saving life is the application of engineering remedies to minimize the lethal effects of human error by designing the automobile so as to afford maximum protection to occupants in the event of a collision. In a word, the job is to make accidents safe….

Perhaps the best summation lies in a physician’s comment on the car manufacturer’s design policy: “Translated into medicine,” he writes, “it would be comparable to withholding known methods of life-saving value.”