Human Exceptionalism

Fewer Auto Deaths: How About Some Credit Where it is Due for Ralph Nader?

Where is the institutional memory of the media? A truly good news story has come out about how last year we had fewer automobile accident deaths since the 1960s. There are many reasons for this, with the story focusing on high gas prices last year for reducing the miles driven. Increased seat belt use is also mentioned, amazingly without crediting my pal Ralph Nader who has spent most of his adult life promoting auto safety. From the story:

Several states have pushed tougher seat belt laws that allow law enforcement officers to stop motorists whose sole offense was failing to buckle up…

Seat belt use in 2008 climbed to 83 percent, a record. Fourteen states and the nation’s capital had rates of 90 percent or better. Michigan had the highest seat belt use rate with 97.2 percent, followed by Hawaii with 97 percent and Washington state at 96.5 percent. Massachusetts had the lowest rate, 66.8 percent, while it was under 70 percent in New Hampshire and Wyoming.

Many states have tried to improve their enforcement of driving laws and public outreach. In South Dakota, for example, state troopers are required to devote several hours a year to give presentations discouraging drunken driving or promoting seat belt use.

The report should also mention air bags, which are now taken for granted, but for which Ralph fought years to require as an auto safety feature.

None of this would likely have happened, at least not when it did–but for a young attorney taking on General Motors in the early 1960s with the book Unsafe at Any Speed, and in the acrimonious afterwards in which GM tried to pound this piqsqueak upstart into the dirt–only to be the one to receive the big black eye.

Ralph Nader is one of the great humanitarians of the 20th Century who has been disdained and forgotten in the media due to their pique over the 2000 election. But to see why RN was known as “St. Ralph,” the person of last resort for many suffering profound injustice, see the documentary An Unreasonable Man, which vividly depicts why he was my hero during my teenage years long before I ever met him.

There should be editorials in our remaining newspapers tomorrow thanking Ralph for the part he played in all of this. But don’t hold your breath. So I’ll say it: Thanks so much, Ralph, for helping save so many lives and preventing so many devastating injuries.

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