Unsafe at Any Speed

views updated May 23 2018


UNSAFE AT ANY SPEED. Published in 1965 by the then-unknown lawyer Ralph Nader, this exposé of the American automobile industry's disregard for consumer safety became a best-seller that electrified the consumer advocacy movement. Unsafe at Any Speed showed how the automobile industry consistently ignored and even covered up the dangers their products posed for the public. The public outrage provoked by the book helped assure the passage of the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act in 1966, which created a regulatory agency empowered to set design standards for automobiles, such as mandatory seatbelts. Along with Rachel Carson's environmentalist classic Silent Spring (1962), Unsafe at Any Speed reinvigorated a progressive regulatory impulse in American politics that had been in abeyance since at least World War II. But Nader's aim was not just to savage the design defects of one vehicleGeneral Motors' best selling Corvairor even to criticize the automobile industry generally. Rather, Nader's true target was elite control of the state and of businessgovernment linkageswhat he called "the power of economic interests." Like Upton Sinclair's muckraking socialist classic The Jungle (1906), however, Nader's book failed to convince the public that capitalism itself contained flaws, but did result in greater consumer protection in one specific industry.

Nils Gilman

See also Automobile Safety ; Consumer Protection ; National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act .