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Still Unsafe at Any Speed

I certainly admire the life and work of Ralph Nader, for whom I’ve proudly voted several times.  Despite his failure to chain himself to the Supreme Court’s front door in November of 2000, I remain a fan.

Nonetheless, I have to question why Mr. Nader now seems to be resting content with his partial (and half-century-old) victories over the forces promoting the ongoing reign of the private automobile.  As Nader’s magnum opus, Unsafe at Any Speed, intimated, this machine, if relied upon for everyday transportation in sufficient numbers, is simply unsafe and unsustainable at any and every speed.

Reading Nader these days, you wouldn’t know this.  Seizing upon the auto-industrial complex’s own favored measure of so-called “automotive safety” — deaths from crashes per mile driven, a measure that disguises the crucial fact that, in recent decades, people have been driving a lot more miles — Nader seems to think that this topic was all but put to bed by his lobbying for creation of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.  While failing to mention that Mothers (and Others) Against Drunk Driving certainly deserves its own major, independent share of the progress that’s been made against the unfettered reign of profit (i.e, cars) in the area of personal mobility, Nader lets the impressive scale of that progress paper over the equally impressive costs and dangers that still, and always will, inhere in cars-first transportation.

For example, you know those 1.07 deaths per per 100 million miles driven, that rate of which Nader is apparently so proud?  That rate transported 32,675 residents of the United States to their early graves last year.  (By my math, that’s almost a 9/11’s worth of violent deaths happening every month.  And, as Nader might add, many more maimings and injuries than that.)

But, of course, there is a lot more stupidity that attends the practice of trying to rely on hundreds of millions of 95 percent unused, 3,500-pound heaps of complex materials to facilitate everyday locomotion.  Not least of the built-in dangers is the strong likelihood that, loss leaders like “Electric Vehicles” and hybrid cars notwithstanding, fueling such fleets in any conceivable manner is a planetary impossibility.  Will we manage to avoid over-heating our climate, exhausting our most precious fuel supplies, and letting the attending tensions launch World War Three?

The answers there seem far from clear and comfortable to me.  I know why corporate capitalists don’t want us talking about them.  They can’t live without cars-first transportation.  But, with all due respect, what’s up with Ralph Nader here?

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Michael Dawson is the Portland, Oregon-based editor of deathbycar.

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