This year marks the 50th anniversary of Ralph Nader's bursting onto the automotive scene by publishing Unsafe at Any Speed, an indictment of the early Chevrolet Corvair with swing axles.
It was the beginning of safety crusades for the automobile and, more important, drivers, passengers and pedestrians. Make no mistake: Over the years, thousands of lives have been saved and injuries curtailed because of those safety efforts.
Unfortunately, back then General Motors acted about as badly as possible toward Nader and made itself the villain. The eventual settlement of an invasion of privacy lawsuit against GM helped Nader fund his efforts.
But it was also the beginning of an industry awareness that the automobile could be made safer. In the past five decades, there have been many vehicle improvements and many efforts by concerned citizens to improve car and truck safety.
It seems ironic that today GM is embroiled in a tragic case of engineering incompetence with the ignition switch demonstrated to have been responsible for almost 90 deaths.
Today, the Center for Automotive Safety exists and still has Clarence Ditlow doing his utmost to save lives.
Car companies around the world have many thoughtful, dedicated engineers focused on safety, trying to make autos safer in collisions for occupants and pedestrians. Last week, the SAE World Congress devoted a lot of time to addressing safety aspects of the motor vehicle.
This industry annually saves thousands of lives that 50 years ago might have been lost. Today's innovations are astonishing, and more are coming tomorrow. Certainly the combination of airbags and all the sensors and electronic safety devices will continue to be a boon to drivers and passengers.
This industry can take pride in its accomplishments over the years. Despite that, it still needs outsiders to push for higher safety standards and greater compliance with existing rules.
Until there are no auto-related deaths or injuries, one could say that the work is not done.
But the industry keeps passing one milestone after another. And the safety push all started 50 years ago with Ralph Nader's Unsafe at Any Speed.