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> Safety Crusaders
 
Campaign brochure for Rep. Kenneth A. Roberts, 'Mr. Safety,' 1962
Campaign brochure for Rep. Kenneth A. Roberts, "Mr. Safety," 1962

In the late 1950s, Rep. Kenneth A. Roberts, a nationally known consumer safety advocate, chaired a House subcommittee that investigated automobile safety issues. His field research and unequivocal demands for better motorist protection were widely reported in newspapers. Roberts blamed automobile design for injuries and fatalities. In order to overcome industry resistance to mandatory safety devices, Roberts sponsored legislation requiring safety equipment in all automobiles purchased by the federal government. This legislation passed in 1964.

Roberts’ interest in motorist protection had been sparked by a personal experience. During a honeymoon trip in 1953, Roberts slowed for a truck, and his car was rear-ended. When he checked the badly dented trunk, he was surprised to learn that wedding gifts made of china and crystal were unbroken because his mother-in-law had padded and wrapped each item. He was among the first government officials who became convinced that packaging the passenger with seat belts and other devices was the key to reducing automobile-related injuries and fatalities.

Several authors and consumer advocates advocated tougher auto safety standards in the 1960s. No individual is more closely identified with this movement than Ralph Nader. His 1965 book Unsafe at Any Speed galvanized public interest by portraying motorists as victims of corporate neglect. Nader accused the automobile industry of ignoring safety research findings, retaining hazardous designs that caused injury or death, and valuing sales and marketing above motorist protection. In 1966, Nader testified before a Senate subcommittee during the preparation of landmark federal legislation imposing safety standards on new cars. His testimony helped to focus the nation's attention on auto safety issues.

Nader's quest for safer cars went beyond the installation of seat belts and padded dashboards. He called attention to structural and mechanical design flaws, devoting a chapter of Unsafe at Any Speed to Corvair's swing-axle independent rear suspension system. In 1970, Nader co-founded the Center for Auto Safety, which advocates recalls, lemon laws, and other measures that protect motorists and hold manufacturers accountable for hazards and defects. Nader also became an outspoken advocate of consumer protection in many other areas, including the environment, health care, and nuclear energy.

Unsafe at Any Speed: The Designed-in Dangers of the American Automobile, by Ralph Nader (1965)
Unsafe at Any Speed: The Designed-in Dangers of the American Automobile, by Ralph Nader (1965)
An Indiana family's 1973 Ford Pinto was struck from behind, and the rear-mounted fuel tank ruptured and burst into flames. An expert witness in State of Indiana v. Ford Motor Company, Byron Bloch showed the prosecution team a safer fuel tank location forward of the car's rear axle.
An Indiana family's 1973 Ford Pinto was struck from behind, and the rear-mounted fuel tank ruptured and burst into flames. An expert witness in State of Indiana v. Ford Motor Company, Byron Bloch showed the prosecution team a safer fuel tank location forward of the car's rear axle.

Since the 1960s, safety expert Byron Bloch has exposed dangerous automobile designs and has recommended safer designs through courtroom testimony, government depositions, investigative reporting, journal articles, and lectures. Trained in industrial design and human factors engineering (the interaction between people and machines), Bloch has documented fuel tank fires, crushed roofs, and other hazards caused by vulnerable parts that fail during collisions or rollovers. He has advocated tougher federal standards and designs that promise to reduce the number of injuries, disabilities, and fatalities.

In the 1960s, Ralph Nader encouraged Bloch to serve as an expert witness in product liability lawsuits involving motorists who were burned in collisions. Bloch's testimony about the dangers of rear-mounted fuel tanks made headlines. He also testified at a 1973 congressional hearing that led to rear-impact crash tests for fuel tank integrity. In 1978, Bloch collaborated with ABC News on an Emmy Award-winning report on “20/20” about rear-mounted fuel tanks. In the early 1980s, automobile manufacturers moved the fuel tank to a safer location forward of the rear axle.

Bloch has studied the problem of truck underride --automobiles sheared while rolling under commercial vehicles. Since the 1960s, he has advocated improved guards on the rear of trucks and tractor-trailers and the addition of side guards. In 1998, congressional action led to federal safety standards requiring larger, stronger rear guards on new trailers.

Structurally lightweight automobile roofs that collapse during rollover accidents are also among Bloch's concerns. His testimony to the U. S. Department of Transportation called for roofs capable of supporting four times the vehicle's weight. In 2009, the federal government mandated automobile roofs capable of supporting three times the vehicle's weight, double the previous requirement. Bloch also called for an actual rollover test instead of a hydraulic push test, which only simulates weight and force on the roof.

Bloch has advocated the remediation of many other life-threatening structural safety defects, including lack of side impact protection, seat ejection in a collision, tempered glass that crumbles on impact, and lack of safety features on light trucks and vans. An early advocate of air bags, he prepared television news reports about their lifesaving qualities.

Bloch advocates side guards and stronger, lower rear guards to prevent cars from rolling under trucks and trailers.
Bloch advocates side guards and stronger, lower rear guards to prevent cars from rolling under trucks and trailers.
Byron Bloch testified in court cases involving rollover accidents, pointing out structural weaknesses that caused roofs to collapse onto vehicle occupants.
Byron Bloch testified in court cases involving rollover accidents, pointing out structural weaknesses that caused roofs to collapse onto vehicle occupants.
From 1978 to 1985, Byron Bloch publicized auto safety defects in a series of twice-weekly television reports on KABC Eyewitness News in Los Angeles.
From 1978 to 1985, Byron Bloch publicized auto safety defects in a series of twice-weekly television reports on KABC Eyewitness News in Los Angeles.
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