National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act

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NATIONAL TRAFFIC AND MOTOR VEHICLE SAFETY ACT. Signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson on 9 September 1966, this act created the first mandatory federal safety standards for motor vehicles. Implementation authority was assigned to the Department of Commerce and, shortly thereafter, to the National Highway Safety Bureau within the newly formed Department of Transportation. The act, intended to reduce driving fatalities, reflected a growing consensus that faulty vehicles cause accidents, not (simply) faulty drivers—an approach popularized by consumer advocate Ralph Nader and his 1965 book, Unsafe at Any Speed.

After initial hesitation, the automobile industry supported the act and moderated bureau attempts to impose stringent standards. Recodified in the early 1980s, the law has undergone numerous revisions.


Harfst, David L., and Jerry L. Mashaw. The Struggle for Auto Safety. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1990.

Kimberly A.Hendrickson

See alsoConsumer Protection .