Unsafe At Any Speed At 55

Unsafe at any speed

It has been 55 years since Ralph Nader’s seminal book about auto safety, Unsafe at Any Speed, was published.

Yes, it was about the car industry. Writ large, it was more of an indictment of the entire auto industry and the government agencies that were supposed to regulate it. The facts were that car manufacturers knew their cars were unsafe, had the technology to make them safer, yet chose not to employ that technology. Government regulators looked the other way.

Profits over safety.

Style over safety.

Industrial might over safety.

CliffsNotes Version of Unsafe At Any Speed

Nader and his team examined the entire industry, but the “poster child” for what was wrong was the Chevrolet Corvair. While there were many other unsafe vehicles on the market, the Corvair exemplified many of the most egregious failures. Similar vehicles, such as the Ford Falcon, the Plymouth Valiant, VW Beetle, and Renault Dauphine, all had similar deficiencies.

The most salient were:

  • Suspension that failed to prevent frequent rollovers. Improved suspension systems were available to prevent this, but the manufacturer did not include them (or advertise them as options) in the vehicles sold.
  • Many safety options were costly and did not come standard on the vehicles, meaning that less-affluent drivers were often at higher risk.
  • No seat belts. Remember, this was before the shoulder harnesses we now have in every vehicle.
  • Recommended tire pressures that were outside the manufacturer’s ranges. These were an attempt to counter the frequent rollovers instead of including the improved suspension system.
  • The steering column would drive backward into the driver in a collision, impaling the driver.
  • Dashboards were unpadded, causing many head and face injuries.
  • Chrome dashboards were flashy. They also caused crashes because the chrome would reflect sunlight directly into the face of the driver, momentarily blinding her.

Why Was This Allowed?

We currently live in an era in which there is great distrust in government and governmental regulation. That was also the case in the 1960s. The auto industry did not want required safety technology to be included on vehicles. Manufacturers believed that safety didn’t sell cars; styling did. In addition, many consumers were resistant to laws requiring the use of seat belts.

Nevertheless, despite enormous resistance, backlash, lobbying, and pushback, a new government agency, the U.S. Department of Transportation, which includes the National Highway Safety Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), was created in 1966.

The 1966 National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act mandated uniform standards for safety. It used federal funds to develop and strengthen highway safety programs in concert with uniform standards promulgated by the Secretary of Transportation.

I’m Here From the Government and I AM Here to Help You

The publication of Unsafe at Any Speed led to the creation of government-mandated safety rules and standards. Those standards reduced highway deaths.

In short, it is very likely that without the book, there would have been no legislation to create these laws and standards. And because of that legislation and those standards, fewer people have died in car crashes.

Activism and government action are often portrayed as bogeymen, limiting freedom and creating red tape. But often, they are essential tools that make life better for ordinary people.

Auto Crashes and Why I Became a Lawyer

One reason I became a lawyer over three decades ago was to help people. Lawyers hold people and organizations accountable. Lawyers push for legislation and action to mandate safety features and standards.

You may say, sure, but you’re handling so many auto crash injury cases, don’t you profit off of lower safety standards?

Theoretically, yes. But anyone who has represented badly injured or deceased people and their families will tell you they would trade money earned on those cases for ways to prevent those people from being injured in the first place. I know I would.

There is no downside to demanding safety features and standards.

The desire to prevent injury is why trucking lawyers have pushed for side panels to prevent vehicles from becoming entrapped in the truck’s wheels. It’s why trucking lawyers continually push for “coming soon” safety features in trucks like air bags, lane departure detection, and camera sensor systems.

Safety features are actually selling features in cars today, an idea the auto industry rejected out of hand several decades ago. And in case you were concerned about the auto industry making a profit, the industry remains profitable despite these safety mandates.


  • Ralph Nader’s groundbreaking book, Unsafe At Any Speed, was instrumental in creating government safety standards for vehicles
  • Safety standards have reduced motor vehicle deaths
  • Government regulation of the auto industry protected consumers and drivers by making cars safer and less deadly
  • Lawyers who represent injured people and their families play a key role in continuing the push for safer cars and trucks

Contact Chicago Personal Injury Lawyer Stephen Hoffman

As in all cases involving injury and potential liability, if you have been hit by a vehicle, immediately get medical treatment, report the crash to police and your own insurance company, and contact a lawyer with expertise in your type of case, such as bicycle accidents or pedestrians hit by cars.

If you've been in an accident and have questions, contact Chicago personal injury attorney Stephen L. Hoffman for a free consultation at (773) 944-9737. Stephen has over 30 years of legal experience and has collected millions of dollars for his clients. He is listed as a SuperLawyer, has a 10.0 rating on Avvo, and is BBB A+ accredited. He is also an Executive Level Member of the Lincoln Square Ravenswood Chamber of Commerce.

Stephen handles personal injury claims on a contingency fee basis, which means you don’t pay anything up front, and he only gets paid if you do. Don’t wait another day; contact Stephen now.