It has been almost 40 years since the inception of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Congress created the organization in 1966 in the aftermath of Unsafe at Any Speed, a book about the Chevrolet Corvair by Ralph Nader. The book probably would have gone largely unnoticed if it hadn't been for General Motors' inept skulduggery; GM executives put a tail on Nader, hoping to get something on him.
After GM President Jim Roche admitted to a congressional panel that GM had done sleuthing on Nader, the creation of NHTSA was a foregone conclusion. It's said that GM Chairman Fred Donner left the country so he wouldn't have to testify and could send Roche in his place.
It was not a proud moment for GM or the automobile industry.
Since then, safety advocates, led by Clarence Ditlow, have been unhappy with the administrators selected to run NHSTA - except Joan Claybrook, one of their own, who ran the organization during the Carter administration. They will want a true activist to succeed Dr. Jeffrey Runge, who steps down next month.
It may be time for some new initiatives.
I have been a strong advocate of crash avoidance rather than crash survivability. If we can create cars and trucks that enable drivers to avoid crashes, we'll save lives and a lot more.
The growing use of computers in the aerospace industry shows that there is real potential to help the driver avoid those crashes - whether by informing the driver or helping with the job of driving.
A number of passive safety systems have been added to cars and trucks, starting with the airbag. It took more than 20 years to get it into all automobiles. Development of the airbag was ramrodded by Ed Cole when he was president of GM (1967-74), and it was first installed in GM cars in 1974.
The entire process of rulemaking is long and laborious at best. Sadly, over the years, the auto industry has been far too adversarial in opposing just about all new regulations.
Today, automakers and suppliers are aggressively marketing safety devices that go far beyond the mandates of law, and the buying public is reacting positively.
Safety sells. It will be interesting to see who's selected as the next head of NHTSA.