Nader made American car buyers demand safer, cleaner vehicles

Here’s something I never thought I’d say: Ralph Nader is fascinating to speak with, and I admire and respect his contribution to the auto industry.

That’s an about-face for me. When I discovered cars in the early 1970s, Nader was the enemy.

Nader’s the one who really opened the door to government oversight of the automobile industry with his landmark 1965 book, Unsafe at Any Speed, and his testimony before Congress the following year that helped lead to the creation of the agency that morphed into the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

When I got my first car, catalytic converters were just coming out. So were seat belt interlock systems, unleaded fuel and a whole host of technologies that made nearly all domestic and most foreign cars sluggish and unreliable.

The automobile today is safer and cleaner because of Nader. The Center for Auto Safety calculates that the book, and Nader’s activism, are directly responsible for saving 3.5 million lives.

Clarence Ditlow, the center’s executive director, says: “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.

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