Car Safety In The United States
There was a total of 32,708 fatalities due to automobile accidents in the U.S. in 2010,
the lowest in 60 years. One of the major reasons why traffic deaths have declined is due
to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The agency, which was founded
by an act of law in 1966, has been tasked with among other things, to write and enforce
We are familiar with NHTSA through its power to recall cars due to safety issues. We all
remember, for example, the massive number of recalls of Toyota vehicles for
unintended acceleration. However, it wasn't always like that. Acura Carland has the
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For years from the introduction of the first automobile to the 1970s, it was believed that
the federal government did not have the authority to force regulations on to automobile
manufacturers. Instead, it was believed that the responsibility of safe vehicles strictly
belonged to the auto makers and possibly the states. If crashes occurred which led to
fatalities it was widely believed that it was the fault of the driver. Atlanta Honda Dealers
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However, beginning in the 1960s a number of events started to galvanize public opinion
which led to the creation of NHTSA and later to permit NHTSA to take stronger action.
The first was Ralph Nader's book "Unsafe at Any Speed." Nader was and still is a
consumer activist. The book attacked General Motors and specifically the Chevrolet
Corvair for being too dangerous to drive. The book gained a lot of attention and the U.S.
Senate Commerce Committee began holding hearings on the issue of safer cars which
ultimately led to the passage of the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of
1966 which created NHTSA.
The second incident that ultimately led to more government involvement in safety
regulations was the Ford Pinto case. In the early 1970s Ford Motor Company
introduced a compact car known as the Pinto. Its size and fairly low price attracted a lot
of buyers and the car soon became one of Ford's best-selling models. However, there
was a major problem with the design and construction of the car. The gas tank was
located in the rear before the axle. When the car was involved in a rear-end collision,
the gas tank would blow up. Needless to say, there were a number of deaths and
horrific burn injuries which led to a series of law suits against Ford. Moreover, there
were a number of articles written on the subject like one by Journalist Mark Dowie and
published by Mother Jones Magazine in 1977. The article accused Ford of callously
deciding to continue with the manufacturing and sale of the Pinto even after the
company's own crash tests showed that the gas tank would blow up as a result of a
rear-end collision. The selling of the car was more important to Ford than the safety of
the driver and passengers. Woodstock Honda Dealer and Kennesaw Honda Dealer
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In addition, NHTSA got involved in the case to determine if the gas tank met the criteria
of a recallable safety defect. NHTSA changed its tests to simulate a rear-end collision
by another vehicle into a Pinto at a speed of 30 to 35 miles per hour. The test showed
that the gas tank of the Pinto was indeed defective and did fit the criteria of a recallable
Public opinion galvanized against Ford and in favor of more federal regulations to
assure that the cars we drive are safe.
It didn't happen overnight and many advocates of stronger action on the part of the
federal government toward auto makers are not totally satisfied. However, we now have
a federal agency that is keeping an eye on auto manufacturers to assure that they build
Moreover, organizations like the non-profit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS),
which was established in 1959, now exist to test new model cars every year. Included
in the evaluation are a frontal offset impact test, a side impact test, rear crash protection
and head restraint ratings, and roof strength evaluation. Cars are tested under their
particular model classification --large cars, midsize cars, small cars, mini-cars, large
SUVs, midsize SUVs, small SUVs, minivans and large pickups. IIHS offers four ratings -
- Good, Acceptable, Marginal, and Poor. The tests are performed each year on the new
model year vehicles and the Insurance Institute publishes the top safety picks each
The days of "Let the Buyer Beware" are over as far as the auto industry is concerned.