November 11, 2016
Clarence M. Ditlow, III, the Executive Director of the Center for Auto Safety since 1976, died on November 10 at the George Washington University Hospital in Washington. He was 72 years old.
Spanning four decades, his work forced the auto industry to make vast improvements in the safety, reliability and fuel efficiency of the vehicles on which Americans depend daily.
His accomplishments included safety recalls of tens of millions of vehicles that saved untold thousands of lives, and lemon laws in all 50 states. Since the center was founded in 1970, the death rate on America’s roads has dropped dramatically, from 5.2 per 100 million vehicle miles traveled in 1969 to 1.1 per 100 million vehicle miles in 2010. Ralph Nader and Consumers Union established the Center to provide consumers a voice for auto safety and quality in Washington and to help owners of “lemon” vehicles fight back across the country.
Under Mr. Ditlow, the Center played a major role in these recalls, among others: 6.7 million Chevrolets for defective engine mounts, 15 million Firestone 500 tires, 1.5 million Ford Pintos for exploding gas tanks, and 3 million Evenflo child seats for defective latches.
In the past seven years alone, the Center was the primary force behind the recalls of 7 million Toyotas for sudden acceleration, 2 million Jeeps for fuel tank fires, 11 million GM vehicles for defective ignition switches, and more than 60 million faulty Takata airbag inflators.
At one of the Center’s first staff meetings, Mr. Nader made the installation of air bags a key early goal. It took approximately 20 years to accomplish it, but they are now standard in all vehicles.
The Center’s projects include the Safe Climate Campaign, founded in 2008 to advocate more efficient, less-polluting vehicles to fight global warming.
Mr. Ditlow and other representatives of the Center testified more than 50 times before congressional committees regarding auto safety, warranties and service bulletins, air pollution, consumer protection and fuel economy. Under Mr. Ditlow, the Center for Auto Safety became the leader consumer advocate pressing for passage of the 1975 Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, the fuel economy provisions of the Energy Policy and Conservation Act, which established the first Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency (CAFE) standards, and the disclosure to consumers of automotive technical service bulletins, which auto companies send to dealers alerting them to hazardous conditions in their cars.
Saluting his work, Sens. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said in a statement in the Congressional Record of Sept. 29, 2016:
“Through a lifetime of work improving automotive and safety laws, Mr. Ditlow has helped save thousands of lives and prevented many more injuries than would otherwise have occurred. A tireless champion for consumers, his work has resulted in better government oversight of automakers, the installation of key safety features, and the exposure of safety defects in millions of cars, SUVs and other trucks….Mr. Ditlow’s discovery of numerous automotive defects, combined with his persistent pressure on safety agencies and automakers alike, led to the removal of many unsafe vehicles from the road.”
Mr. Ditlow was the author or co-author of multiple books and other publications on auto safety, air pollution and transportation including The Lemon Book, Lemon Law Litigation Manual, Little Secrets of the Auto Industry, and Sudden Acceleration. He updated and edited each year the Automobile Design Liability manual, a six-volume work published annually by ThomsonReuters under its Westlaw imprint. He also supervised the annual publication of The Car Book, which presents the latest safety ratings, dealer prices, fuel economy, insurance premiums, and maintenance costs for new vehicles.
Mr. Ditlow served on the boards of Consumers Union, Friends of the Earth, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, and the Automobile Protection Association.
Mr. Ditlow, whose father was a Chevrolet service manager in Harrisburg, Pa., was graduated from Lehigh University with a degree in chemical engineering. He was also a graduate of Georgetown Law School and earned a master of laws degree from Harvard Law School. His Washington career began as a patent examiner with the U.S. Patent Office in 1965. He later joined Mr. Nader’s Public Interest Research Group as a staff lawyer.
Arrangements are pending at this time.
For further information, contact:
Michael Brooks, Center for Auto Safety
O: 202-328-7700 x 113
Dan Becker, Director, Safe Climate Campaign.