Ralph Nader: Still Unsafe at Any Speed

One man invented automotive safety when Ralph Nader published his book Unsafe at Any Speed in 1965. An expose of the alleged disregard automakers held for consumer safety, the book resulted in the establishment of motor vehicle safety laws.

What does the consumer advocate say today, 40 years later? "The windshield in a car and its role in safety is an issue of great importance with low visibility."

Blunt, straight talk. Just what his audience had come to hear.

Nader gave the keynote address at the Auto Glass Replacement Safety Standards Council (AGRSS) Conference being held at the Rio Suites in Las Vegas, Nev.

He spoke to a large audience which had come together from all segments of the industry for this unprecedented event.

He told them that he became aware of car safety through the brutality of auto accidents he would come across while hitchhiking around the country as a student. That developed into the story of how he came to write Unsafe at Any Speed and what happened after its publication.

Nader explained to the audience, which included those who could remember the events first hand as well as those who were getting a history lesson, that the battle over the airbag took place in the 1980s, which was where our industry's interest in safety really came to the forefront. He told attendees that many federal motor vehicle standards became out of date in the 1990s because they had been created in the '60s and '70s and technology had advanced but the standards had not. "When you hear the automakers say 'Our vehicle exceeds federal standards' that's when you should worry," he stated.

"We now have the capability to make crashes, except for those involving big trucks, survivable at 60 miles per hour while the standards are still at 35 mph," he pointed out. "The insurance companies are not coming to the fore to get these capabilities adopted the way State Farm did for airbags," he added.

Discussing the new AGRSS standard, Nader said, "The auto glass industry has taken chaos and developed a standard. An ANSI standard is a consensus so it is a floor, but a floor is better than chaos." The standard itself has to be viewed as a work in progress, he advised. "Don't freeze it. Keep free to modify and improve it."

Nader said a big challenge is to publicize the subject of auto glass and safety and the new AGRSS standard. "Insurance companies should publicize the standard. They have a huge outlet for getting information out and could use that to increase awareness of the role of the windshield in safety," he stated.

Nader suggested getting a consumer advocate lawyer to look into pursuing the legality of improperly replaced windshields in terms of federal standards. He also touched on the antitrust and steering issues that the industry faces, calling it a "real sticky thicket."

"Roll over accidents remain the biggest issue in vehicle safety and that is your opportunity to make known the role of the windshield in vehicle safety," he told the group. Publicize it, he advised. "Talk to groups. This is not an abstract issue for people," he added.

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