Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
DOUBLE YOUR DONATION!
We don’t run corporate ads. We don’t shake our readers down for money every month or every quarter like some other sites out there. We provide our site for free to all, but the bandwidth we pay to do so doesn’t come cheap. A generous donor is matching all donations of $100 or more! So please donate now to double your punch!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Your Safety and Your Congress in 1965 and Now

The 50th anniversary of my book, Unsafe at Any Speed, which analysts associate with the launch of the modern consumer movement, prompts comparisons between 1965 and 2015.

The life-saving impact of the book through the highway and auto safety laws Congress passed in 1966, creating an auto safety enforcement agency to lift up safety standards for motor vehicles, has been historic. According to an analysis of deaths per mile driven by the Center for Auto Safety (CAS) “the 1966 federal laws, federal agency and general measures they created – have averted 3.5 million auto deaths over the past 50 years.”

CAS executive director Clarence Ditlow declared that “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 100 million VMT (vehicle miles traveled) in 1966 versus what it went down to in each subsequent year, falling to 1.07 by 2014. [Lives] have been saved by traffic laws (seatbelt 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.”

Of course, even more injuries were prevented or reduced in severity by these vehicle and highway safety advances.

How did this happen? As author and consumer advocate Mark Green writes, “The issue is not the size of government but how smart democracy can successfully save millions of lives.” It started with knowledge about the gap between cars, promoted for their style and horsepower, and what feasible safety devices were being left out of the vehicles by the auto industry bosses.

The more people knew, the more they questioned why their friends and relatives did not survive vehicle crashes. Congressional hearings, widely disseminated by the mass media, addressed this issue again and again. It was because the auto companies wanted to market anything but safety. It was also because there was no meaningful federal policy and program for highway safety, leaving it to the states, whose legislatures were uniformly under the control of industry lobbyists.

Unfortunately the insurance industry (with few exceptions such as Liberty Mutual) focused on drivers and premiums but not getting safer vehicles on highways.

The winning combination included 1) Enough influential senior members of Congress, led by senators Abraham Ribicoff, Warren Magnusun, Gaylord Nelson and Walter Mondale, along with Congressman John Moss; and 2) reporters such as the Washington Post’s Morton Mintz, United Press’s Patrick Sloyan, the Detroit News’s Bob Irvin, James Ridgeway of the New Republic and the New York Times’s Walter Rugaber, who stayed with the developing exposés week after week. There were also columns by the famous Drew Pearson that appeared in 500 newspapers. Finally there was President Lyndon Johnson and his Chief of Staff Joseph A. Califano, who encouraged Congress to act and then organized the signing ceremonies for the landmark auto safety legislation in the White House in September 1966.

It took only ten months from the appearance of Unsafe at Any Speed to the first regulation of the giant auto industry for safety and fuel economy.

All this movement to protect Americans from industry malfeasance would prove difficult today. Congress is a wholly owned subsidiary of Big Business. Reporters are not the same for lots of reasons beyond their control in the new media business. Even after corporate crime and abuse is reported by leading newspapers, efforts in Congress to correct and reform sputters.

Congress has become the “graveyard” of our country’s needed changes that are supported by a majority of the American people. Look at congressional deadlock on increasing the minimum wage, climate change, regulatory frameworks for biotechnology, nanotechnology and infrastructure repairs of airports, bridges and railways. Medical and hospital malpractice and over-prescription of medicines (including those that are antibiotic resistant) and avoidable hospital-induced infections are together taking over a quarter of a million lives annually. Yet Congress does little to curb medical negligence. Both political parties are dialing daily for the same commercial dollars – not seriously championing advances in health and safety.

Yet, it is still possible to make changes through Congress, which is made up of only 535 men and women who need your votes more than they need corporate lobbyists’ money. One change after another long overdue change can be achieved if the majority of the people want it. With this support, it takes one percent or less of the voters back home to organize and get Congress to do the people’s bidding.

That one percent or less, sometimes far less, needs to spend a “hobby-amount” of time each year (say 300 to 500 hours) organizing in every congressional district and a “hobby amount” of money to maintain a full-time office of three or four full-time advocates in each District.

How do I know this? First of all, it took less than that to make many important reforms and changes in American history. Second, our numerous citizen groups made changes in industry after industry – from coal to drug and food companies to the polluting chemical companies. And, third, a handful of dedicated activists pushed Congress to create the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) in 1970, to name just one of many “small group” achievements.

So take heart, America! We have far more problems than we deserve and far more solutions on the shelf than we apply. That is the “Democracy Gap” that is being widened by the plutocrats and the oligarchs from Wall Street to Washington. A result-driven, democratic, citizen resurgence would bring the best out of the American people, often with Left/Right alliances that are unstoppable. Visit Nader.org for examples of what small numbers of activists with limited budgets have accomplished.

More articles by:

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! 

October 22, 2018
Henry Giroux
Neoliberalism in the Age of Pedagogical Terrorism
Melvin Goodman
Washington’s Latest Cold War Maneuver: Pulling Out of the INF
David Mattson
Basket of Deplorables Revisited: Grizzly Bears at the Mercy of Wyoming
Michelle Renee Matisons
Hurricane War Zone Further Immiserates Florida Panhandle, Panama City
Tom Gill
A Storm is Brewing in Europe: Italy and Its Public Finances Are at the Center of It
Suyapa Portillo Villeda
An Illegitimate, US-Backed Regime is Fueling the Honduran Refugee Crisis
Christopher Brauchli
The Liars’ Bench
Gary Leupp
Will Trump Split the World by Endorsing a Bold-Faced Lie?
Michael Howard
The New York Times’ Animal Cruelty Fetish
Alice Slater
Time Out for Nukes!
Geoff Dutton
Yes, Virginia, There are Conspiracies—I Think
Daniel Warner
Davos in the Desert: To Attend or Not, That is Not the Question
Priti Gulati Cox – Stan Cox
Mothers of Exiles: For Many, the Child-Separation Ordeal May Never End
Manuel E. Yepe
Pence v. China: Cold War 2.0 May Have Just Begun
Raouf Halaby
Of Pith Helmets and Sartorial Colonialism
Dan Carey
Aspirational Goals  
Wim Laven
Intentional or Incompetence—Voter Suppression Where We Live
Weekend Edition
October 19, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jason Hirthler
The Pieties of the Liberal Class
Jeffrey St. Clair
A Day in My Life at CounterPunch
Paul Street
“Male Energy,” Authoritarian Whiteness and Creeping Fascism in the Age of Trump
Nick Pemberton
Reflections on Chomsky’s Voting Strategy: Why The Democratic Party Can’t Be Saved
John Davis
The Last History of the United States
Yigal Bronner
The Road to Khan al-Akhmar
Robert Hunziker
The Negan Syndrome
Andrew Levine
Democrats Ahead: Progressives Beware
Rannie Amiri
There is No “Proxy War” in Yemen
David Rosen
America’s Lost Souls: the 21st Century Lumpen-Proletariat?
Joseph Natoli
The Age of Misrepresentations
Ron Jacobs
History Is Not Kind
John Laforge
White House Radiation: Weakened Regulations Would Save Industry Billions
Ramzy Baroud
The UN ‘Sheriff’: Nikki Haley Elevated Israel, Damaged US Standing
Robert Fantina
Trump, Human Rights and the Middle East
Anthony Pahnke – Jim Goodman
NAFTA 2.0 Will Help Corporations More Than Farmers
Jill Richardson
Identity Crisis: Elizabeth Warren’s Claims Cherokee Heritage
Sam Husseini
The Most Strategic Midterm Race: Elder Challenges Hoyer
Maria Foscarinis – John Tharp
The Criminalization of Homelessness
Robert Fisk
The Story of the Armenian Legion: a Dark Tale of Anger and Revenge
Jacques R. Pauwels
Dinner With Marx in the House of the Swan
Dave Lindorff
US ‘Outrage’ over Slaying of US Residents Depends on the Nation Responsible
Ricardo Vaz
How Many Yemenis is a DC Pundit Worth?
Elliot Sperber
Build More Gardens, Phase out Cars
Chris Gilbert
In the Wake of Nepal’s Incomplete Revolution: Dispatch by a Far-Flung Bolivarian 
Muhammad Othman
Let Us Bray
Gerry Brown
Are Chinese Municipal $6 Trillion (40 Trillion Yuan) Hidden Debts Posing Titanic Risks?
Rev. William Alberts
Judge Kavanaugh’s Defenders Doth Protest Too Much
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail