Ralph Nader recently said of the election of Trump: “This could be the most serious event in American political history.” (1) In this piece, we look at the power of Presidents to protect people.
Ralph Nader is probably the most knowledgeable person on the subject of safety and his views have proven trustworthy. In his 1965 landmark book “Unsafe at Any Speed” Nader wrote:
“A great problem of contemporary life is how to control the power of economic interests which ignore the harmful effects of their applied science and technology. The automobile tragedy is one of the most serious of these man-made assaults on the human body… Our society’s obligation to protect the “body rights” of its citizens with vigorous resolve and ample resources requires the precise, authoritative articulation and front-rank support which is being devoted to civil rights.” p. ix
The history of Presidents using powers to protect people has resulted in millions of lives saved.
For just one tally of the contributions that resulted in the saving of 3.5 million lives through programs to control vehicle violence see video of Clarence Ditlow’s inspirational and informative presentation at the 2016 Nader Conference.
Milestones of Presidents
Milestones in the history of protecting people – and in failing to protect people – follow:
- 1924 Coolidge: At the time, 140,000 Americans had lost their lives to vehicle violence. Coolidge’s remarks at the First National Conference on Street and Highway Safety included, “The evil you are combating is so widespread as to be of national concern and we do well to look at it with a countrywide vision. But its solution does not rest in national action.” (2)
- 1925 Coolidge: A “Voluntary” Standard was adopted that allowed lead in gasoline resulting in a half century of poisoning the people of the U.S. (3)
- 1966 Lyndon B. Johnson: By 1966 1.5 million Americans had lost their lives to vehicle violence. LBJ proposed and signed vehicle safety laws after Nader’s “Unsafe at Any Speed” was published in 1965. (4)
- 1970s Richard M. Nixon: By 1968, 1.6 million Americans had lost their lives to vehicle violence.
- Nixon Downgrades Pollution Control from protecting public health (PHS) to protecting the environment (EPA)
- Nixon Auto Emission Measurement Loophole (EPA)
- Lewis Powell Memo (4) (5)
- 1976 Jimmy Carter: By 1976, 2 million Americans had lost their lives to vehicle violence. President Carter appointed Joan Claybrook to be the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Administrator resulting in the airbag regulations, the New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) and advanced auto safety research (4)
- 1980 Ronald Reagan: By 1981, 2.2 million Americans had lost their lives to vehicle violence. Reagan then appointed a coal industry lobbyist to head NHTSA, rescind the air bag rule and reduce NHTSA staff by 300 people (33%) – a reduced level that remains to this day. (4)
- 1988 George H.W. Bush: At the time, 2.6 million Americans had lost their lives to vehicle violence. President Bush appointed a former Army General to head NHTSA and defend rollover deaths and injuries. This person then went on to become a consultant to Ford.
- 2000 George W. Bush: By the year 2000, 3.1 million Americans had lost their lives to vehicle violence. President Bush appointed former GM lobbyist Andrew Card to be his Chief of Staff and packed NHTSA with GM and other industry officials (4)
- 2008 Barack Obama: By 2008, 3.4 million Americans had lost their lives to vehicle violence. President Obama will be sadly remembered for weak oversight of the auto industry resulting in many needless deaths and injuries. (6)
Future of Presidents Protecting People
No one can predict what future Presidents will or won’t do to protect people; however, the need for citizens to effectively advocate, in both courts of public opinion and courts of justice, for their safety is clear. As can be seen from just the auto safety problem, the U.S. is on track in the coming decade to count its 4 millionth death and 1 billionth person injured due to vehicle violence.
Current rates of vehicle violence are resulting each day in about:
- 100 deaths
- 400 serious injuries (e.g. paraplegia, burns, amputations)
- $2 billion in losses as valued by DOT (7)
Ralph Nader recently published a book and held an eight-day Conference on “Breaking Through Power” with useful information from civic leaders on what can be done and how citizens can act to influence elected officials to protect people. (8)
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