WASHINGTON - The Society of Automotive Engineers desperately needs to have an ethics code for members, consumer advocate Ralph Nader says.
"It boggles the mind that SAE, in its 102-year existence, has never adopted an ethical code" like those for other engineering associations, Nader said in a letter late last month to SAE President Greg Henderson, an aerospace engineer with Lockheed Martin.
A code for chemical engineers, for example, requires them to "hold paramount the safety, health and welfare of the public," Nader said.
The letter follows a report from Nader's office that aims to re-energize the auto safety movement. The report also proposes better use of federal research money and stronger regulation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
In seeking an ethics code for engineers, the report suggests that engineers sometimes must decide between an employer's interest and the public interest.
SAE spokeswoman Nancy Lewis said last week that Henderson hadn't seen Nader's letter. The group is committed to public safety, she said.
Rob Cirincione, 26, wrote the 137-page report, "Innovation and Stagnation in Automotive Safety and Fuel Efficiency."
After Cirincione earned an engineering degree from Princeton University in 2002, he says, he spoke with a Ford recruiter about a job in computer-assisted engineering. But he and the recruiter agreed he would not be a good fit at the automaker, Cirincione told Automotive News.
He went to work instead in 2004 for Nader's Center for the Study of Responsive Law.
The new report echoes Nader's 1965 book, Unsafe at Any Speed. That expose is widely credited with launching the auto safety movement.
Since then, a wide array of safety laws and rules have taken effect. Vehicles are loaded with safety equipment.
The death rate on U.S. highways has plunged.
But engineers still are subjected to the "conflicting pressures" of science and business, Cirincione said in his report. They have never adopted "an expressed duty to safeguard the public welfare," he said.
The recommended ethics code, the report said, would help establish "a community of engineers who practice with degrees of independence and professionalism commensurate with their duty."
You may e-mail Harry Stoffer at [email protected]