Mr. Nader argues that not making people at the top criminally responsible for illegal actions is part of the problem. Lest you think that position extreme, the former Chair of the US Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, makes the same opinion in relation to the scandals on Wall Street that arguably caused near economic collapse in 2008. Firms are penalized; the individuals who run them are not.

Which is why governments, consumer groups, consumer advocates and a vigilant press must exert what pressure they can to ensure that the interests everyday people are promoted and protected, and why consumers, even car enthusiasts, mustn’t allow themselves to be totally hypnotized by the allure of an appealing vehicle.

Happily, Mr. Nader is still around (you can subscribe to his free weekly newsletter), and he has been a thorn in the side to companies and governments for decades regardless of their left, centre or right-leaning orientation. He is indeed a controversial figure, though, being described as “monomaniacal, authoritarian, obsessive, intimidating, seductive, furtive, manipulative, hypocritical, self-serving and more.” He has run for President of the United States five times and has been debatably blamed for splitting the vote that enabled George W. Bush to take Florida in the 2000 election. He’s also a hero to many.

Mr. Nader has started or had a role in starting dozens of consumer and public advocacy organizations and his interests run the gamut from cars to ecology to taxation to species extinction. As far as automobile safety is concerned, he is encouraged by technological advances and the decline in car-related deaths, but troubled by the continuing recalcitrance of the auto industry. In his own words:

There are unfortunately few national problems that are less serious today than they were 50 years ago. The fact that our roads are safer is a testament to the power of public sentiment, citizen advocacy and a government that acts to promote the welfare of its people, not the interests of big business. In this sense, the “car safety war” is certainly a war worth studying, reflecting on, and celebrating.

However, the battle still rages on. A record 50 million cars were recalled in 2014 for safety defects. With recent developments regarding defective ignition switches from General Motors, defective airbags from Takata Industries, exploding Jeep Grand Cherokees from Fiat Chrysler, Toyota’s sudden acceleration, and many other dangerous defects that have been uncovered in the past few years, it’s clear that vigilant watchdogs are needed now as much as ever. (Auto Safety: Past is Prologue, 2015)

Get a copy of Unsafe at Any Speed. It’s quite a read, even 50 years on.

Connect with