On 50th Anniversary of Ralph Nader’s Unsafe at Any Speed, Safety Group Reports Declining Death Rates Have Saved 3.5 Million Lives

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On 50th Anniversary of Ralph Nader’s Unsafe at Any Speed, Safety Group Reports Declining Death Rates Have Saved 3.5 Million Lives

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Caitlin Graf, The Nation, caitlin@thenation.com, 212-209-5426
Clarence Ditlow, The Center for Auto Safety, 202-328-7700
Exclusive to The Nation

New York, NY – December 1, 2015 – Based on an exclusive new analysis of deaths per mile driven, the Center for Auto Safety (CAS) and The Nation, America’s premiere weekly magazine of progressive politics and culture, today announced that auto safety-related measures—the 1966 federal laws, federal agency and general measures they created—have averted 3.5 million auto deaths over the past 50 years.

The data, compiled by CAS executive director Clarence Ditlow and timed to the 50th anniversary of the publication of Ralph Nader’s Unsafe At Any Speed, is exclusively reported in “How Ralph Nader Changed America,” a Nation profile of the crusading consumer advocate by Mark Green. It will be published in the December 21/28, 2015 edition of the magazine and be accompanied by an interview between Nader and national affairs correspondent John Nichols.

“3.5 million represents the difference between the number of deaths that there would have been if the death rate had stayed at 5.50 per hundred million VMT (vehicle miles traveled) in 1966 versus what it went down to in each subsequent year, falling to 1.07 by 2014,” * said Ditlow. “Deaths have been saved by traffic laws (seat belt use, helmet and drunk driving laws), safer roads, vehicle safety standards and vehicle safety improvements spurred by consumer demand for more safety after Unsafe at Any Speed.” *See chart at end, “Analysis of Lives Saved by Lower Vehicle Death Rates.”

Green, who worked for Nader in Washington, DC, from 1970-1980 and later became the first elected Public Advocate of New York City, added: “These 3.5 million American lives saved over five decades by auto regulation reducing auto-related death rates by 80 percent—as many saved per year as were killed in the entire Vietnam War—is a persuasive numerical rebuttal to all who glibly denounce ‘big government.’ Would they maintain their disdain if shown to among the 3.5 million? The issue is not the size of government but how a smart democracy can successfully save millions of lives.”

The Nation published Nader’s first article on auto safety, “The Safe Car You Can’t Buy,” on April 11, 1959, when he was just one year out of Harvard Law School. [Read an excerpt.] This article would provide the basis for Unsafe at Any Speed, which in turn helped launch the consumer-rights movement.

Until the fall of 1966, there was no federal regulatory law or agency protecting them from death and injury on the nation’s highways. In that year, 50,894 people were killed and 1.9 million injured. Prior to 1966, over 1.6 million people had been killed in motor vehicle accidents in the United States before the Congress passed two landmark pieces of legislation that year—the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act and its companion bill, the Highway Safety Act. If the 1966 fatality rate of 5.50 deaths per hundred million vehicle miles traveled (VMT) had continued, 167,956 people would have been killed in vehicle crashes in 2014. Instead, the death rate was 1.07—a decline of 80 percent over 50 years—with 32,675 killed.

In 1965, the publication of Nader’s Unsafe at Any Speed exposed the deplorable safety records of auto companies. The book—and subsequent investigation of the author by General Motors—led to Congressional hearings overseen by Senators Warren Magnuson and Abraham Ribicoff. At the Senate hearing, GM President James Roche apologized to Mr. Nader for his company’s probes. Within a few months, the Senate and House unanimously passed the Vehicle Safety and Highway Safety Acts, which were signed by President Lyndon Johnson on September 16th, who stated: “In this century, more than one and a half million of our fellow citizens have died on our streets and highways; nearly three times as many Americans as we have lost in all our wars. . . . I’m proud at this moment to sign these bills—which promise, in the years to come, to cure the highway disease: to end the years of horror and give us years of hope.”

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About the Center for Auto Safety:
Consumers Union and Ralph Nader founded the Center for Auto Safety (CAS) in 1970 to provide consumers a voice for auto safety and quality in Washington and to help lemon owners fight back across the country. CAS has a small budget but a big impact on the auto industry. With less than half what General Motors spends on a single Super Bowl commercial, CAS has taken on the auto giants and won for consumers. Its many accomplishments include lemon laws in every state; recall of the infamous Ford Pinto for exploding gas tanks and the Firestone 500 tire for tread separation; exposure of GM Firebomb pickups with side saddle gas tanks that burned over 1,000 people to death; state laws to force disclosure of secret warranties on cars that can save consumers billions of dollars each year; safety and highway standards that have dropped the death rate on America’s road from 5.2 per 100 million vehicles mile traveled in 1969 to 1.1 in 2010; and numerous legal victories over government agencies that have saved vital consumer, safety and environmental laws under assault by industry.

About The Nation:
Founded in 1865, The Nation is America’s oldest weekly magazine, serving as a critical, independent voice in American journalism and a platform for investigative reporting and spirited debate on issues of import to the progressive community. Through changing times and fashions, The Nation and TheNation.com offer consistently informed and inspired reporting and analysis of breaking news, politics, social issues and the arts—never faltering in our editorial commitment to what Nation Publisher Emeritus Victor Navasky has called “a dissenting, independent, trouble-making, idea-launching journal of critical opinion.”

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Center for Auto Safety Analysis of Lives Saved by Lower Vehicle Death Rates Since 1966

Year # of Deaths Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) Millions Death Rate per 100 Million VMT # of Deaths if Death Rate = 1966 # of Lives Saved
1966 50,894 925,899 5.50 50,894 -0-
1967 50,724 964,005 5.26 53,020 2,126
1968 52,725 1,015,869 5.19 55,873 5,149
1969 53,543 1,061,791 5.04 58,399 5,674
1970 52,627 1,109,724 4.74 61,035 7,492
1971 52,542 1,178,811 4.46 64,835 12,208
1972 54,589 1,259,786 4.33 69,288 16,746
1973 54,052 1,313,110 4.12 72,221 17,632
1974 45,196 1,280,544 3.53 70,430 16,378
1975 44,525 1,327,664 3.35 73,022 27,826
1976 45,523 1,402,380 3.25 77,131 32,606
1977 47,878 1,467,027 3.26 80,686 35,163
1978 50,331 1,544,704 3.26 84,959 37,081
1979 51,093 1,529,133 3.34 84,102 33,771
1980 51,091 1,527,295 3.35 84,001 32,908
1981 49,301 1,555,308 3.17 85,542 34,451
1982 43,945 1,595,010 2.76 87,726 38,425
1983 42,589 1,652,788 2.58 90,903 46,958
1984 44,257 1,720,269 2.57 94,615 52,026
1985 43,825 1,774,826 2.47 97,615 53,358
1986 46,087 1,834,872 2.51 100,918 57,093
1987 46,390 1,921,204 2.41 105,666 59,579
1988 47,087 2,025,962 2.32 111,428 65,038
1989 45,582 2,096,487 2.17 115,307 68,220
1990 44,599 2,144,362 2.08 117,940 72,358
1991 41,508 2,172,050 1.91 119,463 74,864
1992 39,250 2,247,151 1.75 123,593 82,085
1993 40,150 2,296,378 1.75 126,301 87,051
1994 40,716 2,357,588 1.73 129,667 89,517
1995 41,817 2,422,823 1.73 133,255 92,539
1996 42,065 2,484,080 1.69 136,624 94,807
1997 42,013 2,552,233 1.65 140,373 98,308
1998 41,501 2,628,148 1.58 144,548 102,535
1999 41,717 2,690,241 1.55 147,963 106,462
2000 41,945 2,746,925 1.53 151,081 109,364
2001 42,196 2,795,610 1.51 153,759 111,814
2002 43,005 2,855,508 1.51 157,053 114,857
2003 42,884 2,890,221 1.48 158,962 115,957
2004 42,836 2,964,788 1.44 163,063 120,179
2005 43,510 2,989,430 1.46 164,419 121,583
2006 42,708 3,014,371 1.42 165,790 122,280
2007 41,259 3,031,124 1.36 166,712 124,004
2008 37,423 2,976,528 1.25 163,709 122,450
2009 33,883 2,956,764 1.15 162,622 125,199
2010 32,999 2,967,266 1.11 163,200 129,317
2011 32,479 2,950,402 1.10 162,272 129,273
2012 33,782 2,968,815 1.14 163,285 130,806
2013 32,719 2,965,579 1.10 163,107 129,325
2014 32,675 3,053,738 1.07 167,956 135,237
1966 thru 2014 TOTAL LIVES SAVED 3,500,078

Nader Blog: Your Safety and Your Congress in 1965 and Now