Unsafe At Any Speed: The Designed-In Dangers of the American

When I was 14 years old, I heard Ralph Nader say that box cereal was less nutritious than the box it came in, and you'd get more nutrition out of tearing up the box and pouring sugar and milk over it, and eating that for breakfast. That's the kind of genius that Ralph Nader produces constantly, and why his ideas changed the world for Americans more than perhaps any political thinker of the late 20th century. He remains more relevant than virtually every other political thinker currently on the scene.

Re: Unsafe At Any Speed: The Designed-In Dangers of the Amer

Postby admin » Tue Oct 29, 2013 9:06 pm


Chapter 1: The Sporty Corvair: The "One-Car" Accident

John F. Gordon did not become president of the world's largest manufacturing company by using strong words. But on October 17, 1961, as the keynote speaker before the annual National Safety Congress, the head of General Motors was among friends -- "professionals" from the National Safety Council and other organizations that make up the closely knit traffic safety establishment. Mr. Gordon saw "diversionary forces" undermining safety progress. "The traffic safety field," he declared, "has in recent years been particularly beset by self-styled experts with radical and ill-conceived proposals.... The general thesis of these amateur engineers is that cars could be made virtually foolproof and crashproof, that this is the only practical route to greater safety and that federal regulation of vehicle design is needed. This thesis is, of course, wholly unrealistic. It also is a serious threat to a balanced approach to traffic safety. To begin with, it is completely unrealistic even to talk about a foolproof and crashproof car. This is true because an automobile must still be something that people will want to buy and use..... We can only design into it the greatest degree of safety that is consistent with other essential functional characteristics. Beyond that, we must depend on intelligent use. The suggestion that we abandon hope of teaching drivers to avoid traffic accidents and concentrate on designing cars that will make collisions harmless is a perplexing combination of defeatism and wishful thinking.

Mr. Gordon finished his address, entitled "Safeguarding Safety Progress," amid enthusiastic and confirming applause. It was a rare occasion for a top auto executive to speak about vehicle safety design in any vein, even in an argumentative context of raising and demolishing straw men. The national media gave wide circulation to his criticism of "self-styled experts" and, in subsequent months, General Motors management made sure that every GM dealer received copies of the address to distribute throughout the local community.

Mrs. Rose Pierini did not read about Mr. Gordon's complaints. She was learning to adjust to the loss of her left arm which was severed two months earlier when the 1961 Chevrolet Corvair she was driving turned over on its top just beyond the San Marcos overpass on Hollister Street in Santa Barbara, California. Exactly thirty-four months later, in the same city, General Motors decided to pay Mrs. Pierini $70,000 rather than continue a trial which for three days threatened to expose on the public record one of the greatest acts of industrial irresponsibility in the present century.

Mrs. Pierini's experience with a Corvair going unexpectedly and suddenly out of control was not unique. There simply are too many Corvairs with such inclinations for her case to be singular. What was distinctive about the "accident" was the attempt to find the cause of it on the basis of investigation, instead of resorting to the customary, automatic placing of blame on the driver.

As described by a California Highway Patrol officer, John Bortolozzo, who witnessed the flip-over while motoring in the opposite direction, the Pierini vehicle was traveling about thirty-five miles per hour in a thirty-five mph zone in the right lane headed towards Goleta. He saw the car move towards the right side of the road near the shoulder and then "all of a sudden the vehicle made a sharp cut to the left and swerved over." Bortolozzo testified at the trial that he rushed over to the wreck and saw an arm with a wedding band and wristwatch lying on the ground. Two other men came over quickly and began to help Mrs. Pierini out of the vehicle while trying to stop the torrent of blood gushing forth from the stub of her arm. She was very calm, observed Bortolozzo, only saying that "something went wrong with my steering."

After helping Mrs. Pierini to the ambulance, the officer made a check of the vehicle while it was on its top. He noticed that the left rear tire was deflated because of an air-out. Looking at the road, he noticed some gouge marks made by the metal rim of the left rear tire. He gave his opinion at the trial that the distinctive design features of the Corvair caused it to go out of control and flip over as had other Corvairs in accidents he had investigated. It was during the cross-examination of Officer Bortolozzo by defense lawyers that General Motors decided to settle the case.

Up to this point no engineering experts had been called to testify by plaintiff Pierini, but already the case had been going badly for General Motors. Two members of the respected California Highway Patrol had taken direct aim on the Corvair design. One of them, Charles Hanna, mentioned a confidential circular put out by the highway patrol dealing with handling hazards of certain rear-engine cars, including the Corvair. Hanna, a fourteen-year veteran of the patrol who had investigated over four thousand accidents, testified that "I have had many, many chances to observe accidents involving this type of vehicle. And they all have the same type of pattern."

Mr. James A. Johnson, service manager of Washburn Chevrolet Company, where the Pierini Corvair was purchased, told the court that his company sold an accessory specially designed for the Corvair by a nearby manufacturer. Attached underneath the vehicle to each end of the lower control arms, this accessory reduced excessive caving-in, or tuck-under, of the rear wheels on cornering or other stress situations.

The dealership's proprietor, Shelton B. Washburn, confirmed that as early as 1961 General Motors provided dealers with regular production option 696, which they could sell to Corvair owners. RPO 696 included heavier suspension springs and shock absorbers, a front stabilizer bar, and rear-axle rebound straps to reduce tuck-under. This RPO was a factory installed kit and not openly advertised. It was intended to meet the demands of the most knowledgeable Corvair owners who take their cornering seriously.

Mr. Johnson, in reply to questioning by plaintiffs counsel, stated that he had been at a General Motors training center at Burbank in 1959 to receive instructions and training about the new Corvair model. There, General Motors personnel told him that the differential tire pressures, front and rear, in Corvair automobiles were a critical factor in their stability. There followed these exchanges:

Counsel: Were you instructed by your superiors to tell members of the public that tire pressures on the Corvair were vital, important, crucial, and critical?

Johnson: No.

Counsel: Did you instruct your subordinates to tell members of the public and customers of Washburn Chevrolet that tire pressures on the Corvair were vital, important, crucial, or critical?

Johnson: We didn't tell the public this, no.

Counsel: Is it true that tire pressures on a Corvair are a must: they have got to be just right for the stability of the car?

Johnson: Yes.

Further indications as to how General Motors alerted its dealers are provided in this questioning of Washburn:

Counsel: When did you first learn that you were to sell Corvair automobiles?

Washburn: Oh, it was sometime during the year 1959. I don't recall the exact month.

Counsel: Did General Motors or the Chevrolet division advise you about the engineering of the Corvair at any time before you started selling that car to the public?

Washburn: The only things that I had seen from Chevrolet Motors Division was what we call sales training films which we use, before we have a new car announcement, to train our salesmen. And they had films on the Corvair in it, in this kit which we get every year to train the salesmen on the new product.

Counsel: But there was nothing in the films that you saw about the engineering of the Corvair, was there?

Washburn: No.

Counsel: The Chevrolet division shipped those cars, those Corvairs, to you without giving you any information about the engineering; correct?

Washburn, That is correct.

Counsel: And you started selling those to the public without having any engineering information on the car, true?

Washburn: Yes, yes; well, with the exception of this one school that Mr. Johnson attended.

The plaintiff's case was just warming up. Still to come were the engineering specialists and the reading into the record of depositions of leading GM personnel responsible for the making of the Corvair, from the drafting board to the production line. But then General Motors called a halt and settled. Judge Percy C. Heckendorf appeared as one summarily deprived of a great drama. He told the court: "I am disappointed from your standpoint, members of the jury, that you are not going to be able to see both sides perform and hear their arguments and go into it. It is a real experience and I would love to have heard that."

The notoriety attached to the Corvair would have soiled the General Motors image of product leadership carefully shaped over the years by a superbly managed program of public relations. For a car to have gone on trial and have been struck down by "twelve men good and pure" would have profoundly shaken even this goliath of American industry. And finally, what about the possible spillover into that dreaded chasm, public regulation? What would legislators think-men long nourished on the diet that "it's all because of the nut behind the wheel" -- when court-sanctioned investigations of evidence brought out into the open the facts about an American car that abruptly decides to do the driving for the driver in a wholly untoward manner? Against such prospects of ill omen, the alternative -- pay and delay -- was much more attractive.

Delay can do many things when a large corporation is doing battle with an injured person. The corporation can hang on much longer. Furthermore, the offending Corvairs -- primarily 1960-1963 models -- can only diminish in number with each passing month; the cause of their collisions and waywardness can continue to go undetected by victims, next of kin, accident investigators, and lawyers.

By October 1965, more than one hundred suits alleging instability in the Corvair had been filed around the country. In the summer of 1965, three of them were decided in court. General Motors denied the charges, and instead blamed the accidents involved on driver negligence. In one case brought in Chicago, the trial court, in a default judgment, decided against GM when the company repeatedly failed to comply with court orders to make available test and engineering information on the car. In two other cases (brought in California and Florida), jury verdicts were in favor of the company's argument that the drivers were careless. In none of the three suits, whatever their resolution may be on appeal, did General Motors reveal the technical data and test results that would have placed before the public the full facts about the Corvair.

The Corvair's peculiar friskiness did not escape the notice of the automobile writers and editors who put out those sprightly car magazines that fill shelves in drugstores. To this animated cult of auto lovers, the introduction of the "Waterless Wonder from Willow Run" into a world of automobile design, mired for three decades in the rut of follow- the-crowd compromises, was a dream realized. The Corvair was different. It was the first modern American automobile to offer a swing-axle independent rear suspension with an aluminum, air-cooled engine mounted in the rear. This was news, challenge, and controversy-the combination that makes for good copy and lively reading. Immediately following the car's introduction in September 1959, the articles began pouring forth on the Corvair road tests, on its rear engine placement and its suspension system. By 1963, sports car racer and writer Denise McCluggage could begin an article on Corvair handling idiosyncrasies with words that assumed a knowing familiarity by her auto buff readers: "Seen any Corvairs lately with the back end smashed in? Chances are they weren't run into, but rather ran into something while going backwards. And not in reverse gear, either."

Then Miss McCluggage went on to describe a phenomenon she termed a "sashay through the boonies, back-end first." "The classic Corvair accident is a quick spin in a turn and swoosh! -- off the road backwards. Or, perhaps, if half- corrective measures are applied, the backward motion is arrested, the tires claw at the pavement and the car is sent darting across the road to the other side. In this case there might be some front end damage instead."

Was Miss McCluggage trying to frighten anyone? Not in the least. Such frolics, she confided, were manageable if not avoidable and she went on to develop the "art of driving the Corvair" for the reader's benefit and, perhaps, life. The vehicle's provocative movements were not to be viewed pessimistically as a danger, but merely as a challenge to driving expertise. The Corvair on a sudden detour could be "brought back" before reaching the point of no return, according to the author, given know-how, anticipation and concentration.

Not all this country's ninety-five million drivers, however, could qualify for the Shell 4000 Rally. For the over 99 per cent residuum not in Miss McCluggage's class, the automobile "after-market" entrepreneurs provided other remedies. Hardly had the first Corvair hit the highway in 1959 before an enterprising company in Riverside, California, EMPI, realized the economic opportunity in the Corvair's engineering lack. The company developed, tested and began to sell an accessory rear stabilizer called the EMPI Camber Compensator that was specially designed for installation beneath the rear suspension control arms of Corvairs. Quite simply, it was a bar to help keep the wheels in optimum contact with the roadway.

EMPI advertised broad claims for its device: "keeps wheels on the ground," "designed and engineered to correct oversteer," "increases stability in winds," "reduces body sway," "lowers roll center," "reduces lean on turns," In 1961, EMFI began selling an accessory front anti-sway bar that, it claimed, gave "added stability" and "greatly improved the handling of the Corvair." 'The more significant of the two devices was the rear-end camber compensator. Estimates of its effectiveness in meeting all of EMPI's declared objectives varied, but there was a solid consensus that these objectives defined very real Corvair problems. And there was widespread endorsement that the compensator was a sizable step forward in safety. Sports Car Illustrated, after observing Corvair test runs in 1961, took note of the "irrefutable evidence that the EMFI Camber Compensator does indeed do mum to reduce oversteer and smooth out the unstable rear-end breakaway."

Ocee Ritm, a well-known California auto specialist who has tested and treated almost every Corvair line (thirty-six of them through 1963), states that the camber compensator "limits positive camber [tuck-under of the rear wheels] to a great extent and changes weight transfer characteristics of the car."

EMPI was not the only company offering stabilizing equipment for the Corvair. Several competitors entered the field as the commentary began to build up from the auto magazines. In the area of suspension changes for safety, said Ritch in 1963, the Corvair owner "has more choices than a bull elk in mating season." Ritch might have added, "if he carefully reads the auto magazines." A reader of such magazines who owned a Corvair could well become interested in such equipment after seeing such reports as:

• "The car can be a handful if the driver doesn't understand its peculiarities."
• The rear weight bias and independent springing together "give the car rather unsettling properties at higher speeds, Take cornering, for example, The rear starts to swing outward. The rear tires dig in but the shift in weight places them at rather odd angles relative to the pavement. These angles are great enough to increase steering force and, suddenly, the car is negotiating a tighter curve than intended. The phenomenon of oversteer has intruded into the scene."
• Another problem with the Corvair is "extreme sensitivity to cross winds. If a sudden gust hits the car, it causes the rear to sway rather severely."

Ritch commented in 1963, after three years of empirical research trying to come up with the hest advice and equipment for "the Corvair enthusiasts" (among which Ritch included himself), that "with the Corvair's center of gravity and high roll couple of the suspension, body lean becomes a considerable force acting to tock both wheels under in a cornering attitude. This results in loss of adhesion because of lowered tire surface contact. The sudden breakaway which has been experienced by every Corvair driver comes when a slight irregularity in the surface destroys the small amount of adhesion remaining."

At the Riverside race course in California there is a curve having an increasingly sharp comer and a downhill exit -- all made further unpleasant by a bump just past the apex. "Fortunately," says Ritch, "the approach is relatively slow and there is lots of warning, so in racing it seldom claims any victims. But similar configurations occur in mountainous country, particularly in the Rockies, and, for the stranger, at least, there are no shutoff markers. A Corvair driver could innocently lead-foot it into one of these curves and take up sky-diving, complete with car."

The veteran "car doctor", Bill Corey, working out of his shop in Pasadena, California, has diagnosed the Corvair's ills and puts the "raw" vehicle through an improvement course; then he sells it as the "Corey Corvair." In addition to the usually prescribed treatments for what Corey calls the "Corvair's unconventional handling, to say the least," he recommends stronger shock absorbers and higher quality tires than those offered the ordinary purchaser.

John Fitch, formerly a highly successful racing driver and consultant to General Motors, early saw in the Corvair substantial "leeways for modifications" that would improve the vehicle's performance. His approach was comprehensive. Out of his Lime Rock, Connecticut, workshop has come the Sprint, which is a converted Corvair Monza designed to improve the engine and handling performance. People who like the basic Corvair design but want something better and safer simply have a regular new Corvair delivered to Fitch, who works it over functionally and adds a few appearance extras. In describing the kind of Corvair he turns out, Fitch made it clear what market he was catering to: "I didn't want a race car," he said: "if I did, I'd buy something for that purpose. But I did want to feel more confident when be. hind the wheel that the car would go where I pointed it."

The foregoing comments are made by men who know the Corvair and are enthusiastic about the relative newness of its engineering as far as mass-produced American cars are concerned. They work at the Corvair as a labor of love and their criticisms are made in that framework. These criticisms are serious and are meant to be taken as such by their authors. But critics are not necessarily crusaders. They never indulge in commentary about the kind of engineering and management operations within General Motors which led to such an unsafe vehicle in handling. In the automobile magazine world such commentary is considered poor taste. It may also be indiscreet. One concentrates on the vehicle, not on its makers.

Most of the auto-buff magazines are run on a shoestring with a small group of car-infatuated, articulate people editing or writing the copy. The general tone is laudatory, but to hold their readers, there are substantial amounts of crisp criticism concerning vehicle deficiencies. However, an unwritten rule is that you never "straight-arm" a vehicle or its manufacturer, nor enter the territory of muckraking. To use terms such as "dangerous handling," or "irresponsibility of manufacture" would hit the industry too close to home. Far better to talk about "road adhesion qualities" or "problems of quality control." These magazines need the automobile company advertising, but probably more important, they require the technical assistance of company liaison men for pictorial materials and the loan of cars which they test-drive and write about each month.

FIGURE 1. Rear Suspension action, comparing 1964 and earlier swing-axle systems to the 1965 full independent axles. Note that as the rear wheels move down into an unevenness or bump, the wheels do not camber as they did with the older system.

But the auto magazines and the Corvair specialists did have an effect on General Motors and its Chevrolet division. Nat that any defects in the vehicle's handling were suddenly revealed to Chevrolet's engineers. Whatever the independent specialists could do by way of testing and modifying, Chevrolet could do better, if only by virtue of its vastly superior resources. What the modifiers and accessory suppliers did was to provide a yardstick which measured the production model Corvair and showed it to come out seriously wanting. When a prosperous business being done by small companies can be built up on the basis of making Corvairs safer, top management takes notice. Obviously, selling greater safety for Corvairs implies that the factory models are dangerous, and implication might seep beyond the tight little world of auto fans and magazines. It took General Motors four years of the model and 1,124,076 Corvairs before they decided to do something for all unsuspecting Corvair buyers by installing standard equipment to help control the cars handling hazards.

For the 1964-model year, Chevrolet decided that any buyer of a Corvair deserved an anti-sway bar between the front wheels and a single-leaf transverse spring under the rear end to perform a function similar to the EMPI Camber Compensator. The 1965 Corvairs borrowed concepts from the Corvette Sting Ray's rear suspension. Out went the swing axles, pivoting only at the differential case, and in came a four-link suspension with universal joints at each end of the axle half-shaft. (See diagram p. 11) In addition there are two lateral stabilizer rods mounted in the rear ahead of the lower link. Other changes in the front suspension assembly, steering, and lire tread had the handling problem in mind. All were changes that the automotive engineer of the nineteen thirties would have seen the need for. (See Fig. 1)

The response from the automobile press was prompt and full of praise. Even the hard-bitten test drivers of Consumers Union reported in the widely circulated Consumer Reports that, compared with previous models, there was a very marked improvement in handling.

The auto magazines generally were ecstatic but they used their lavish compliments of the 1965 model as a permissive relief against which to uncover their long-contained fury over earlier Corvair breeds. In an article entitled "Chevy's All- New Corvair, We Love It!", Car and Driver wrote: "Despite a widespread misconception that the old Corvair was 'almost' a sports car, it was one of the nastiest-handling cars ever built. The tail gave little warning that it was about to let go, and when it did, it let go with a vengeance few drivers could cope with. The rear wheels would lose traction, tuck under, and with the tail end jacked up in the air, the car would swing around like a three-pound hammer on a thirty-foot string. This is not to say that the car was unstable within the limits of everyday, fair-weather driving-just that those limits were none too clearly posted and, once transgressed, you were in pretty hairy territory indeed. The new Corvair handles altogether differently from its predecessors. Final oversteer is still evident (as it must be in every rear-engined vehicle), but getting there is now half the fun, and it's by a new route."

Car Life, in describing the 1965 Corvair's better road manners, began their test drive apprehensively: "We approached this new Corvair with caution, as we have always had to approach Corvairs because of their somewhat unusual handling characteristics." A new and promising car magazine called Road Test, which accepts no automobile advertising, commented: "Previous to 1965. the car was probably the worst riding, worst all-around handling car available to the American public with the exception of the original Pontiac Tempest. Corvairs have a reputation of being 'tricky' cars to drive. Many have been involved in one-car accidents such as [the one] in which television comedian Ernie Kovacs lost his life." Road Test called the 1965 Corvair "one of the sweetest handling automobiles we have ever tested. The new line incorporates modifications the Corvair specialists such as Bill Corey, Bill Thomas and John Fitch have advocated for years."


Ever since the Corvair was introduced, General Motors' official reaction to criticisms has been silence. The handling hazards of Corvairs did not proceed from engineering mysteries or the prevalence of one technical "school of thought" over another. The Corvair was a tragedy, not a blunder. The tragedy was overwhelmingly the fault of cutting corners to shave costs. This happens all the time in the automobile industry, but with the Corvair it happened in a big way. What was there for General Motors to say?

The tragedy of the Corvair did not begin that thirtieth day of September in 1959 when it went on display in dealer showrooms. Nor did it begin when Ford test drivers got hold of two Corvairs somewhat prematurely from a dealer in early September and lost control of them at the company's test track. It began with the conception and development of the Corvair by leading GM engineers -- Edward Cole, Harry Barr, Robert Schilling, Kai Hansen and Frank Winchell.

Cole, now a General Motors executive vice president, provided the managerial ignition. He was an old devotee of rear-engined cars and right after World War II became involved with a short-lived experimental Cadillac having a rear engine. A prototype, ponderously bedecked with dual tires at the rear for stability, was soon shelved. To Cole, however, the idea of a rear-engined car remained attractive and he carried it over with him to Chevrolet and developed a project proposal as he rose in that division's hierarchy. In 1955, as chief engineer of Chevrolet, Cole saw a market for a small, "compact" car. Already an unpretentious import with a rear, air-cooled engine and independent suspension was "pre-testing" the American market with rising commercial success. But Cole and his associates were not in any mind merely to produce an American stereotype of the Volkswagen. This was to be a brand new kind of car utilizing the lessons of past models and the advances of the latest automotive technology. When he rose to head Chevrolet division in the summer of 1956, Cole put some of his finest engineering talent to work on preliminary design work. In the spring of 1957, Barr, Schilling, and Hansen made formal presentations before the top-level GM engineering policy committee and the executive committee. It was then that the official go-ahead to build the Corvair was given to Chevrolet. Kai Hansen was made head of the project.

A small, light car project naturally would look to the European experience. This is what Hansen and his associates did before coming up with the Corvair design. To aid in such an evaluation, they had the benefit of one of GM's most creative engineers, Maurice Olley. Originally hailing from Rolls Royce, Olley was a prolific inventor with over twenty-five U.S. patents issued in his name and assigned to General Motors. His field of specialization was automobile handling behavior. In 1953 Olley delivered a technical paper, "European Postwar Cars," containing a sharp critique of rear-engined automobiles with swing-axle suspension systems. He called such vehicles "a poor bargain, at least in the form in which they are at present built," adding that they could not handle safely in a wind even at moderate speeds, despite tire pressure differential between front and rear. Olley went further, depicting the forward fuel tank as "a collision risk, as is the mass of the engine in the rear." Unmistakably, he had notified colleagues of the hurdles which had to be overcome.

Hansen's group was familiar with the risks of its appointed task. Its members knew well the kinds of priorities which would force them to dilute their engineering standards. First, the new automobile had to sell well and make a "target rate of return" on investment, according to GM's unique and well-established policy of guaranteed profits. The way to do this, General Motors' management decided, was to make a small, lighter ear, with fuel economy, which would seat six passengers comfortably and give a ride comparable to a standard Chevrolet passenger sedan. Given the goal of designing a much lighter vehicle, this was no routine task. If these objectives could be achieved, the quest for profit maximization would have reached new frontiers. An automobile representing a reduction of 1,332 pounds of material, or more than one-third the weight of a standard 1960 Chevrolet, that could sell for only about $200 less than standard models would constitute a marvel of production cost efficiency and sales ingenuity.

In January 1960, Hansen told a meeting of the Society of Automotive Engineers: "Our first objective, once the decision was made to design a smaller, lighter ear, was to attain good styling proportions. Merely shortening the wheel base and front and rear overhang was not acceptable. To permit lower overall height and to accommodate six adult passengers, the floor hump for the drive shaft had to go. Eliminating the conventional drive shaft made it essential then that the car have either rear-engine, rear-drive or front-engine, front-drive. Before making a decision, all types of European cars were studied, including front-engine, front-drive designs. None measured up to our standards of road performance."

Chevrolet engineers decided that the best and most "esthetically pleasant" utilization of passenger space dictated the use of a rear-engine, rear-drive design. This decision presented the problem, according to Hansen, of successfully applying the arrangement to a chassis that combines stability with a good ride and easy handling qualities. Hansen's job was to get the various factors working for safer handling-principally, front and rear weight-distribution, tire-pressure differentials and tire design, suspension geometry, and relative dynamic behavior in the front and rear-and still keep a soft ride and maximum cost reduction possible.
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Re: Unsafe At Any Speed: The Designed-In Dangers of the Amer

Postby admin » Tue Oct 29, 2013 9:07 pm

PART 2 OF 2 (CH. 1 CONT'D.)

Hansen and his fellow engineers could not have been under any misapprehension as to the magnitude of the handling challenge before them. They had to deal with by far the heaviest rear-engined automobile in the western world, having between sixty and sixty-three per cent of its weight on the rear wheels. This fact alone posed handling problems considerably in excess of those afflicting the smaller and lighter rear-engined European cars. Ocee Ritch describes the consequences of this weight and size difference between rear-engined cars by way of simple analogy: "If you swing a bucket at the end of a short rope and accidentally hit your brother in the head, is he more apt to suffer a concussion if the bucket is empty or full? Similarly, if you increase the length of the rope and swing it at the same speed, will it cause more damage? Right on both counts. 'The more weight or the longer the arm, the more force is generated. In the case of the automobile, deviating from a straight line is the equivalent of swinging the bucket."

Automotive engineers will say, in defending their performance, that every car is a compromise with economic and stylistic factors. This statement, if true, is also meaningless. For the significant question is, who authorizes what compromises of engineering safety? Hansen has never publicly revealed what choices he would have preferred to take had he been given more authority against the erosive demands of the professional stylists and the cost department. The secret world of the automobile industry does not encourage free and open engineering discussion of alternative courses of action. But on occasion there is an exposition of what was actual1y done. Before a meeting of the Society of Automotive Engineers on April 1, 1960, in Detroit, Charles Rubly, a Chevrolet engineer who worked on the Corvair, gave his colleagues the practical considerations: "One of the obvious questions is: "If you wish more of the roll couple to be taken on the front wheels, why did you leave the stabilizer off?' First, we felt the slight amount of gain realized did not warrant the cost; secondly, we did not wish to pay the penalty of increased road noise and harshness that results from use of a stabilizer. Another question that no doubt can be asked is why did we choose an independent rear suspension of this particular type? There are other swing-axle rear suspensions, of course, that permit transferring more of the roll couple to the front end. Out selection of this particular type of a swing-axle rear suspension is based on: (1) lower cost, (2) ease of assembly, (3) ease of service, and (4) simplicity of design. We also wished to take advantage of coil springs ... in order to obtain a more pleasing ride ..."

Mr. Rubly's four reasons could be reduced to one: lower cost. Having made such concessions, the Corvair engineers had to compensate for the strong oversteering tendency of the design. This was done by recommending to the Corvair owner certain critical tire pressure differentials which he should maintain between front and rear wheels. Corvair buyers received this advisory near the end of the owners manual: "Over-steer problems may also be encountered with incorrect pressures. Maintain the recommended inflation pressures at all times."

No definition of "over-steer" is given in the manual. The recommended pressures are fifteen psi (pounds per square inch) on the front wheels and twenty-six psi on the rear wheels when cold (defined as "after car has been parked for three hours or more or driven less than one mile") and eighteen psi front and thirty psi rear when "hot." According to the Chevrolet division, such pressure differences promote vehicle stability by introducing proper steer characteristics.

It is well established that cornering stability can be improved with any weight distribution, front or rear, by manipulating tire inflation pressures. (Equally inflated tire pressures, front and rear, says Professor Eugene Larrabee of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, makes the Corvair dangerous to drive.) But any policy which throws the burden of such stability on the driver by requiring him to monitor closely and persistently tire pressure differentials, cannot be described as sound or sane engineering practice. The prominent automotive engineer Robert Janeway expressed a deeply rooted technical opinion in engineering circles when he evaluated the use of this human expedient: "Instead of stability being inherent in the vehicle design, the operator is relied upon to maintain a required pressure differential in front and rear tires. This responsibility, in turn, is passed along to service station attendants, who are notoriously unreliable in abiding by requested tire pressures. There is also serious doubt whether the owner or service man is fully aware of the importance of maintaining the recommended pressures."

Corvair dealers and salesmen also have widely varying opinions about what are the best tire pressures. It is unusual to find one who adheres to or agrees with the owner's manual recommendations, although recently Chevrolet directives have reiterated the need for following the manual's figures. The apathy among dealers about the function of proper pressures for Corvair handling is quite unsettling. Dealer employees have routinely suggested to inquirers equivalent or near-equivalent tire pressure between front and rear. A Washington, D.C., dealer advised with assurance, "Carry twenty- four pounds in the front tires and twenty-six pounds in the rear." The owner's manual was wrong, he said, and concluded with the aside, "Cars are like women. They're all different." Whether it be in Los Angeles, Atlanta, St. Petersburg, New York, or Detroit, Corvair owners have been exposed to this kind of random and varying advice.

There is considerable dispute among automotive experts whether Chevrolet's recommended differentials of twenty-six and fifteen pounds per square inch are adequate. In a deposition of tire specialist Raymond B. Stringfield, taken on behalf of General Motors in one of the Corvair cases, the witness stated: "The Corvair recommends fifteen pounds in the front wheels.... Fifteen is dangerous under any circumstances for any purposes."

Ocee Ritch states flatly that the "suggested fifteen psi front, twenty-six psi rear (cold) or eighteen psi and thirty psi (hot) is far too low for high-speed driving or cornering." His recommended course of action requires a constant attention by the operator which proper vehicle design should have rendered wholly unnecessary. "Our prolonged experiments indicate that pressures should be increased until the tires begin to lose adhesion, then reduced slightly ... a trial-and-error process, since production units are fitted with at least three brands of tires, each differing slightly from the other, plus the fact that loading and any suspension changes make significant differences."

The Corvair driver becomes puzzled on confronting such a range of advice. If he writes to the Chevrolet division for clarification, he receives a reply assuring him that the manual's recommendations are the optimum tire pressures and were derived after exhausting research and testing. But clearly a more heavily loaded Corvair, such as one with five passengers, requires different tire pressures to minimize differences in tire deflections front and rear. Corvair engineers knew about this problem and considered raising the recommended rear tire pressures. Once again, however, they succumbed to the great imperative-a soft ride. Rubly recounts it plainly enough: "The twenty-eight psi would reduce the rear-tire deflection enough but we did not feel that we should compromise ride and add harshness because under hot conditions tire pressures will increase three to four psi." Remarks such as these make it difficult to give full credence to company claims and advisories dealing with automotive safety. For behind the facade of engineering authority is the reality of the "trade-off" -- auto industry cant for the bare-bones concessions to the cost and style men. The engineering assurances can not be taken at face value in such a context of undisclosed adulteration.

Another area intimately related to Corvair stability is the load-carrying capacity of the tires. According to the Tire and Rim Association, a tire industry standards group, the maximum permissible load capacity of the size tire used on the Corvair is 835 pounds per tire at twenty-four psi. These maximum permissible loads are derived after compromise between the tire manufacturers and the automobile companies. Yet even under these less than stringent standards, the rear tires of the Corvair are ordinarily overloaded with two or more passengers. Stringfleld stated that four passengers would definitely overload the tires. During his deposition, he was questioned about the tire air-out [1] during the vehicle's cornering. His reply: "The Corvair is, with any passengers at all, very near the maximum-rated load on the rear tires and a sudden thrust [as when a wheel slides while cornering] is capable of forcing the bead inward, unless the air pressure is sufficiently high to resist it; and a tubeless tire is more dangerous in that respect than a tire with an inner tube, because the inner tube prevents the escape of air, if there is only a slight movement, and forces the bead back into place."

"Under-tired" vehicles are not new to the automobile industry. Since the end of World War II, progressively shaving costs off tires has been one of the cost department's most successful tri umphs. A multiplier is operating here; a saving on one tire means savings on all five tires. But although it is not uncommon for other vehicles, overloading tires on the Corvair, in combination with its other unique features such as weight distribution, is particularly hazardous.

With such a precarious weight distribution and tire load, Chevrolet division's relocation of the spare tire from the front,. where it was in the 1960 Corvair, to the rear for the 1961 Corvair Monza was greeted with sheer incredulity by independent Corvair specialists. The reason for the switch was to increase the luggage space in the front "trunk." This switch not only added to the rear-end weight but exposed the tire in the engine compartment to possibly harmful temperatures. Also, there is a hidden danger to the uninitiated driver who takes out this warm spare tire, fills it with the prescribed air pressures, and mounts it on his vehicle. As the tire cools, the air pressure diminishes. The driver is neither given nor advised to carry a tire gauge. Nor is there a tire pressure alarm to warn drivers when a tire is under-inflated, though such a device is available as a truck accessory. But he is urged to purchase an air conditioner, which involves placing about 105 pounds of extra equipment in the rear engine compartment, further exacerbating weight imbalance.

It would not be fair to say that the Corvair engineers designed a vehicle but forgot about the driver. They knew the risks in a design where the car usurps the driving task under certain expected stresses of highway travel. These stresses occur not just in high-speed emergency conditions but in ordinary driving situations within legal speed limits. The combination of factors which leads to the critical point of control loss may occur with a statistical infrequency, but the traditional integrity of automotive design has been to embrace just such situations. Stability limitations, for example, must be evaluated under the most unfavorable loading conditions-six passengers with luggage in the case of the Corvair even though most mileage registered by Corvairs will be with fewer passengers.

When it serves their promotional interests, the automobile manufacturers show great concern about the most infrequently occurring situations. A continuing illustration is the elaborate defenses which they make for producing vehicles with up to four hundred horsepower and a speed capability reaching 150 miles per hour. Is such power and speed hazardous? Not at all, claim the companies, for they provide an important margin of safety in emergency conditions. Apparently emergency conditions include speeds up to and over 100 miles an hour.

The men who headed the Corvair project knew that the driver should be given a vehicle whose handling is both controllable and predictable. They knew that impossible demands could be placed upon the driver by an inherently oversteering vehicle. For the past thirty-five years, American cars have been designed so as to be basically understeering. The Corvair was the first mass-produced exception. Dr. 'Thomas Manos, the highly respected automotive engineering professor of the University of Detroit, is not teaching Hansen's group anything they do not know when he states his judgment about oversteering automobiles: "The driver must become aware that he has to continually fight the wheel or continuously correct because he is the factor which makes the vehicle a stable piece of equipment." Hansen's group didn't forget about the driver. 'They did not have the professional stamina to defend their engineering principles from the predatory clutches of the cost-cutters and stylists. 'They did not forget the driver; they ignored him.

There is no dispute in automotive engineering literature that an oversteering, rear-engined vehicle demands more attention on the part of the driver during cornering and other situations where centrifugal forces come into play. 'The reason for this is plain. General Motors' John Gordon's explanation is helpful. "If you're making a right-hand turn, there's a tendency for the car to move more to the right than you will anticipate it would in relation to the amount of movement you put on the steering wheel: 'The driver must let up on the steering wheel to correct the tendency of the rear end of the car to run outward more on a curve than the front end. But steering the front wheels away from the inside of the curve becomes more difficult with increasing speeds of forty, fifty, or sixty miles per hour. Robert Janeway, former director of Chrysler's dynamic research department, holds that an oversteer condition "is both disconcerting and dangerous except to an expert driver of sports cars or racing cars. 'The required reversal of steering-wheel direction after initiating the turn is an unstable situation that is difficult for the ordinary driver to handle without overcorrection, with potentially dangerous swings on both sides of the proper curved path. From the standpoint of safety, oversteer is an intolerable condition and has always been recognized as such by the industry in the U.S."

Compared with oversteering, an understeering condition is an inherently stable one. On a curve, the front end tends to run wide and in order to negotiate the curve the driver has to steer inward even more sharply. This is a naturally predictable, automatic response. An understeering car, in John Fitch's words, "responds to the Instinctive reaction of the driver," particularly the unskilled driver.

Instability of rear-engined oversteering vehicles on a straight road when there are crosswinds is a well-known phenomenon. The light front end tends to make the vehicle's directional path conform with that of the wind forces. Corvair drivers have often had the feeling of the wind pressing their car toward the side of the road. Serious accidents can result from a cars vulnerability to crosswinds.

During the design stage, Hansen's group tried to counteract the Corvair's inherent oversteer by employing wider wheel rims for increased tire cornering power and by building some understeer into both front and rear suspension systems according to well-known principles. But it is clear that they were not permitted to go as far as their engineering integrity should have dictated. The type of swing-axle rear suspension used on the 1960-1964 Corvairs is simple and cheap to manufacture and assemble. But it contained a hazard that was quite independent of the engine location. The rear wheel is mounted on a control arm which hinges and pivots on an axis at the inboard end of the arm near the center of the vehicle. This design is inordinately encouraging to tuck-under of the outside wheel on cornering which, of course, reduces the wheel's cornering capability and. aggravates the oversteer effect. The limitation of this swing axle setup is described in a patent filed in 1959 by a Chevrolet suspension engineer, Johannes W. Rosenkrands and assigned to General Motors. Until the 1964 Corvair, the only component limiting downward wheel travel was the shock absorber-a function which shock absorbers are not designed to serve.

What most sets the 1960-1963 Corvairs apart from light foreign vehicles with comparable percentages of weight distributions and swing axles is the sudden onset of the critical point at which the vehicle goes out of control and frequently flips over. This point is reached by any number of combinations of vehicle speed, radius of the curve, and tire inflation pressures. For example, tests have shown a Corvair moving out of control at about twenty-two mph, with twenty-six psi in front and rear tires, and turning on a fifty-degree radius of curvature. At higher speeds, a less sharp curve is required to achieve the same rear-end breakaway. But passing maneuvers on a highway could easily involve a severe turn during the swing out and in. Janeway points out that what is most significant is that "critical speeds can occur in the normal driving speed range on sharp curves even at moderate degrees of oversteer." Other makes of vehicles can be made to oversteer through drastic tire inflation differentials, or very heavy loading, but as the forces produced mount toward the critical point, they give a warning to the driver in the "feedback" he receives through the steering wheel, if indeed he is not forewarned by the underinflated tires before or as he gets underway. (See Fig. 2)

1. Moderately loaded car on straightaway (slight positive camber)
2. Moderate right turn. Left axle angle allows centrifugal force of turn to cause beginning lift at arrow.
3. Critical right turn with tuck-under -- approaching rear end breakaway slide. Axle angle causes aggravated lift.
4. Breakaway, extreme tuck-under, and incipient rollover.

The Corvair is different in the 1960-1963 models and to a lesser extent in the 1964 model. At a critical point of lateral acceleration (or centrifugal force), there is a sudden rear-wheel tuck-under. Technically, the positive camber increases radically 4° to 10° or 11° camber -- a horrifying shift causing violent skidding, rear-end breakaway or vehicle roll-over. The change occurs without any warning and in an instant. A variety of disturbing forces may cause this sudden tuck- under -- tire side skidding, gusts of crosswind, the second leg of an S-shaped curve or a comparable cornering maneuver. All these are conditions that the engineer should take into account during his advance analysis of vehicles for potential design faults. Near the critical point, it takes an expert driver to provide the corrective steering action -- assuming highway conditions permit and there are no obstructions, such as another vehicle or a tree.

But the Corvair was not built to be sold only to champion racing drivers. And when the critical point is reached, even Dan Gurney would be unable to control the Corvair. The car was built and sold as "easy handling," "as a family sedan," as a car that "purrs for the girls," according to some of the General Motors advertisements. Understanding the way it was built during the first four years of the model provides in turn a better understanding of General Motors' great emphasis on "defensive driving" when it exhorts the drivers of this country to be more careful.

In ways wholly unique, the Corvair can become a single-minded, aggressive machine. One factor has been noticed in many single-car Corvair upsets. This is where the rear wheel tucks under so far that the rim touches the roadway. When this occurs no driver can control the vehicle, which will be lifted up and very likely turn over. Rim scrapings or gouge marks on the road have become the macabre trademark of Corvairs going unexpectedly out of control.

Derwyn Severy has been working in the field of automobile collision research for fifteen years at U.C.L.A.'s Institute of Transportation and Traffic Engineering. He has received state, federal, and automobile industry grants for his collision testing, experiments acclaimed by industry and non-industry engineering colleagues. General Motors, Ford, Chrysler and American Motors have all had their automobiles privately evaluated at various times by Severy's group. Since 1959 Severy has been aware of and deeply disturbed by the Corvair's handling characteristics. He has found the vehicle, because of its directional instability, to demand more driving skill in order to avoid collision than any other American automobile.

Does he know of any other domestic car with recommended tire pressure differentials-front and rear-of such magnitude? Severy says he does not. If passengers occupy the rear seat area of these Corvairs, would it increase the oversteer characteristics? "Yes," he replied. Must certain pressures be maintained to reduce somewhat the vehicle's inherent directional instability? "Yes." Is the use of a technique that places the continuous responsibility on the driver a safe procedure to follow? "No." He elaborates: "Where the public at large is expected to maintain this tire pressure understanding, then r d say it becomes a dangerous situation to the extent that the vehicle is sensitive to oversteer or directional instability from variations in tire pressure."


The Corvair tragedy consisted of a series of lost opportunities. When the vehicle was being designed and tested in prototype quantities, the Chevrolet division had fully developed and rigorous proving ground, laboratory, and theoretical tests for determining vehicle handling characteristics and directional stability. Proving ground facilities were equipped with instrumentation for evaluating the sensitivity of a vehicle and its tendencies to oversteer under a wide range of conditions. At the same time, General Motors bad Instruments which could have programmed even steering responses of the driver and determined the extent of "feedback" that the operator depends upon from the handling behavior of the vehicle to govern his driving actions. As far back as 1953, Lyle A. Walsh of the GM engineering staff was writing in the General Motors Engineering Journal about well-established techniques of putting a car's suspension system under the scrutiny of scientific laboratories while the car was in action. In 1958 the same journal contained a report by Chevrolet engineers Robert Graham and Ronald Shafer about a new simulator to test vehicle suspensions. A year later, Chevrolet's Max Roensch described the four-year-old Chevrolet engineering laboratory, including the elaborate test and development techniques available to supplement the findings of the General Motors proving ground under actual vehicle driving conditions. He listed the basic responsibilities of the laboratory:

(a) To evaluate the performance and durability of proposed designs, using established test standards;

(b) To establish test standards;

(c) To correlate laboratory investigations with both field experience and GM proving ground test findings;

(d) To supply test data that document and supplement vehicle road tests;

(e) To study all vehicle characteristics or problems under controlled conditions;

(f) To accelerate test results by duplicating actual conditions more quickly than is possible in normal vehicle use or test driving;

(g) To build, adjust, measure, and record all vehicle components before tests, to analyze and record test results;

(h) To provide advance test and development before complete assemblies or vehicles are available.

Taken even at face value, this is a formidable obstacle course through which the handling deficiencies of the Corvair could not have passed undetected.

Mathematical techniques for analyzing vehicle handling qualities were available to General Motors since the first "Cornell equations" were developed under General Motors sponsorship at the Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory in Buffalo, New York, between 1953 and 1955. The engineering mechanics department of GM research laboratories further advanced this theoretical research. Basically, the Cornell equations show how a vehicle should behave, given certain combinations of variables, each of which affects control and stability. Computers then analyze the control and handling performance of a vehicle as it would be affected by these variables.

Obviously, proving grounds, laboratory and theoretical testing and analysis provided the Corvair engineers with the data to document thoroughly the design limitations of the Corvair before it went into production. The drastic tuck-under hazard, for example, is easily determined by a study of the dynamic "moments• of the rear wheel cornering forces about the universal joint's pivot point for each swing axle in the rear-suspension system. Professor Manos, who views the tuck-under problem as the most serious defect of the 1960-1963 Corvairs, has said that he would flunk any student who would not work this calculation out in an automotive engineering course. It is just that elementary and crucial a calculation to vehicle safety.

Yet a safer Corvair suspension system was not forthcoming -- not in 1960, not in 1961, not in 1962 and not in 1963. With the receipt of hundreds of written complaints sent to General Motors by people whose Corvairs had suddenly gone out of control, and the real threat of many lawsuits which must have been anticipated by company lawyers, the absence of any corrective action year after year can only be explained by bureaucratic rigidities and the abject worship of that bitch-goddess, cost reduction.

But at last Chevrolet moved to improve the 1964 models. The engineers at GM are very obedient. Given the green light, they did what they long knew could and should be done. A transverse leaf spring in the rear and a front anti-sway bar were included as standard equipment for 1964 models. The leaf spring served much the same function as the EMPI Camber Compensator and substantially reduced the tuck-under hazard. The 1965 Corvair came out with a more fundamental change in the form of a link-type suspension with dual control arms. These improvements represented new company policy, but not engineering innovations. They drew on well-developed knowledge that went back into GM's empirical work during the thirties and extending to the experimental rear-engined race car developed after World War II by Chevrolet's key suspension engineer, Zora Arkus-Duntov.

It was no longer necessary to rely upon outside evidence to establish the risky gaps in pre-1964 Corvair engineering. General Motors provided the proof with its 1964 and 1965 model modifications. A way was found to overcome the problems of ride and cost which Chevrolet's Rubly found so insistent during the making of the Corvair.

While General Motors may have finally lumbered into engineering improvements, it would be corporate heresy for the proud industry leader to worry about the hundreds of thousands of Corvairs waiting for the law of averages to catch up with them on some S-curve or breezy straightaway. After all, those Corvairs were already sold.

At the May 1965 annual shareholders meeting in Detroit's vast Cobo Hall, Dr. Seymour Charles, a General Motors stockholder and the founder Of the Physicians for Automotive Safety, rose to plead with management to call back to dealer stations all remaining 1960-1963 Corvairs in order that life-saving stabilizing components might be installed. Dr. Charles was not able to arrive at a cost estimate since there is no way of knowing how many such Corvairs are still roaming the highways. (Motor Trends' technical editor, Jim Wright, noted in 1963 that the "wrecking yards have a good selection these days.") But assuming that 750,000 cars have survived, the most money that such a recall would cost would be $25 million: equivalent to under a half-day's gross sales, or less than five days net profits (after taxes) to General Motors. This sum would include instructing owners, far more clearly than by placing a note in the little-read and often lost owner's manual, [2] about the importance of tire pressure differentials and about the meaning of oversteering in terms of driver response.

On the platform in front of Dr. Charles were General Motors' board chairman, Frederic G. Donner and its president, John F. Gordon. Mr. Donner was presiding over the meeting. He deflected the request by inviting Dr. Charles to come up after the meeting to discuss his problems with several of the executives.

Mr. Gordon sat impassively watching Dr. Charles become the first shareholder ever to raise openly at a General Motors annual meeting the question of specific unsafe vehicle design. The president of General Motors really knew very little about the Corvair or the trouble it bas caused its victims-and his own company's lawyers. At the time of GM approval of Chevrolet's Corvair design in '957, Gordon was group vice president of the body and assembly divisions. This entitled him to membership on both the top-level engineering policy group and the executive committee which approved the Corvair design. He was one of the live men responsible for the final approval of the most "revolutionary" automotive package which GM bad ever presented to the domestic market. As an automotive engineer with several patents to his credit, Mr. Gordon might have been expected to interest himself in this substantial debut. Yet on April 10, 1965, under deposition, Mr. Gordon stated that he did not recall the Corvair design being presented to the engineering policy group. He admitted that he did not know what kind of rear-end suspension was on the Corvair design that was approved for production by his committees.

Gordon became president of General Motors in 1958. In the ensuing seven years he ordered no inquiry into the Corvair design in spite of rising and unprecedented litigation, owner com plaints and detailed confidential company-sponsored investigations of Corvair accidents involving directional instability. He said he had never heard of the stabilizing equipment produced especially for the Corvair by other, smaller manufacturers.

In his defense, Gordon says his duties were primarily administrative and that he relied on subordinates with technical competence. One such technical subordinate was Charles Chayne, vice president of engineering. Until his retirement in 1963, Mr. Chayne was a prolific writer and speaker about engineering excellence and safety, addressing professional, trade, and legislative audiences. In the May-June 1956 issue of the General Motors Engineering Journal, he wrote that the function of the engineering policy group was to review "proposed major departures from current engineering practices suggested by the divisions and also make final recommendations on any new major engineering programs, such as new car models." Mr. Chayne went further to describe in detail a primary objective of General Motors' product engineering organization: "To keep informed on the behavior of our products in the hands of our customers so that improvements and corrections can be made if required." He then stated a key principle of General Motors' operating philosophy: "Coordinated control refers to the formulation of overall policy and control of the flow of information. A two-way flow of information exists at each level of management-the downward flow from authority and the upward flow from initiative."

In the making of the Corvair, there was a breakdown in this flow of both authority and initiative. Initiative would have meant an appeal by the Corvair design engineers to top management to overrule the cost-cutters and stylists whose incursions had placed unsafe constraints on engineering choice. There are, however, deterrents to such action that regularly prompt the design engineer to shirk his professional duty. It is to the keepers of those most sacred totems -- cost reduction and style -- that corporate status arid authority accrue. Anyone skeptical about the role of pennies in the production of America's most expensive durable consumer product should listen to Buick's Edward Ragsdale tell about putting a new car into production: "Cost estimates are given the closest possible scrutiny, and they frequently are calculated to the fourth and fifth decimal place. The difference of just two cents per car doesn't sound like very much -- but at current production rates, two cents a car may mean $10,000 for the model run. Hence the cost decision has a great bearing upon all pr0posed changes."

With a spectacular profit record and over 50 percent of the domestic automobile market, General Motors is least vulnerable to competitive pressures that might have been the reason for cutting costs at the expense of Corvair safety. It is not commonly realized that General Motors' return on invested capital and its net income as a percentage of its sales are about double those of its nearest competitor -- the Ford Motor Company. In 1964, for example, Ford had a net income, as a percentage of sales, of 5.6% and an 11.3% return on invested capital. The comparable General Motors figures were 10.2% and 20.4% respectively. These are remarkable differences in American industry for the two leading companies in a highly concentrated product line such as automobiles. It may not be surprising, if still shocking, to have a Corvair-type tragedy issue from an auto manufacturer whose declining sales and high costs were driving it to the wall. But coming from General Motors, such behavior -- and the fact that it is tolerated -- is a syndrome of a much deeper malaise that radiates beyond corporate borders and into society.

On May 18, 1956, almost a year before the Corvair project was launched, the former head of research and development for the Chevrolet Division, Maurice Olley filed a patent application (issued as #2,911,052 on November 3, 1959) where he said what he thought of the Corvair-type suspension: "The ordinary swing axle, under severe lateral forces produced by cornering, tends to lift the rear-end of the vehicle so that both wheels assume severe positive camber positions to such an extent that the vehicle not only 'oversteers' but actually tends to roll over. In addition, the effect is non-linear and increases suddenly in a severe turn, thus presenting potentially dangerous vehicle handling characteristics."

Olley's judgment was ignored.



1 A sudden loss of air around the tire rim without the tire being punctured.

2. William F. Sherman, technical director of the Automobile Manufacturers Association, was speaking for the industry when be said In 1961, "We've long since given up on the idea that the motorist will read the owners manual."
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Re: Unsafe At Any Speed: The Designed-In Dangers of the Amer

Postby admin » Tue Oct 29, 2013 9:19 pm


Chapter 2: Disaster Deferred: Studies in Automotive Time Bombs

The American automobile is produced exclusively to the standards which the manufacturer decides to establish. It comes into the marketplace unchecked. When a car becomes involved in an accident, the entire investigatory, enforcement and claims apparatus that makes up the post-accident response looks almost invariably to driver failure as the cause. The need to clear the highways rapidly after collisions contributes further to burying the vehicle's role. Should vehicle failure be obvious in some accidents, responsibility is seen in terms of inadequate maintenance by the motorist. Accommodated by superficial standards of accident investigation, the car manufacturers exude presumptions of engineering excellence and reliability, and this reputation is accepted by many unknowing motorists.

How many victims of Corvair tuck-under -- those who survived -- know why their vehicle suddenly went out of control? General Motors' Charles Chayne can say, with little fear of contradiction by consumers, that "excellence of automotive engineering is almost taken for granted by the public." Beggars at the trough have no alternative.

Mr. Chayne had occasion to appear before legislative committees between 1956 and 1963 as General Motors' chief safety spokesman. Between his long and well illustrated presentations of company policy and performance, and his guided tours of legislators around company proving grounds, he was never asked about the matter of the 1953 Buick Roadmaster. The Roadmaster episode, unlike other operating failures, became a matter of public record only because of a private lawsuit -- scarcely the best means for informing the public about a booby trap that suddenly leaves a two-ton automobile without brakes.

Robert Comstock, a veteran garage mechanic at the Lawless Buick Company in Ferndale, Michigan, found out what a brakeless Roadmaster felt like. On the morning of January 18, 1954, be was putting a license plate on another car inside the garage when a Roadmaster driven by Clifford Wentworth, the assistant service manager, ran into his leg and crushed it Wentworth had taken the car from its owner, Leon Friend, a few minutes earlier. Friend was complaining that the day before he had experienced a sudden and total loss of braking power, luckily at a very low speed. When Wentworth got into the car to move it to a service stall, he forgot there were no brakes and rammed into Comstock. Wentworth was shaken deeply enough by this tragedy to leave his job. But the story he told the Wayne County Circuit Court when Comstock and his workmen's compensation carrier sued him and General Motors was a horror tale of larger proportions than this single case.

Here are Wentworth's exchanges with Comstock's lawyer and the judge:

Counsel: Now, did you find any complaints or anything wrong with the power brake units in the 1953 Buick automobiles?

Wentworth: Yes sir.

Counsel: When did you first discover anything wrong?

Wentworth: Shortly after the cars began using power brake systems.

Counsel: And can you tell us about when these 1953 Buicks with power brakes came out?

Wentworth: It would be in the fall. I don't know the exact date.

The Court: Fall of 1952?

Wentworth: Yes, I believe so.

Counsel: And about how soon after that did you begin to find trouble?

Wentworth: A matter of weeks, I believe. Loss of fluid and failure of the brakes. The 'O' ring sealer would fail and fluid would be sucked into the engine and burned with the gasoline.

Counsel: Do I understand correctly in a power brake unit you have a master cylinder with fluid in it?

Wentworth: Yes sir.

Counsel: You have a sort of plunger, is that right?

Wentworth: That is right.

Counsel: You press the brakes, the plunger goes down and puts the fluid under pressure?

Wentworth: That is correct.


Counsel: This fluid is distributed by pipes to the four wheels of the car, is that correct?

Wentworth: Yes.

Counsel: And that pressure is distributed to each of the four wheels where it operates on each one of the brakes?

Wentworth: Yes, sir.

Counsel: The 'O' ring sealer would be what?

Wentworth: A sealer between the vacuum cylinder and master cylinder.


Counsel: Now, the motor sucking the fluid out of the cylinder would cause the fluid to disappear, is that correct?

Wentworth: That is correct.

Counsel: And when the fluid disappeared, what happened to the brakes?

Wentworth: The brakes were lost immediately.


Counsel: Did the Lawless Company sell many cars equipped with this kind of unit?

Wentworth: Many cars.

Counsel: How frequently did the buyers complain?

Wentworth: Well, I don't know the exact number, but we couldn't get parts fast enough to repair them, sir.


Counsel: How is it you say two or three weeks or months after, a month or two after the model was out you got word from General Motors to get all these cars in, and they were worried about it, and ten months went by before anything was ever said to Mr. Friend?

Wentworth: I could not attempt an active mailing campaign to get these customers in. People as they came in were told.

The Court: You called him, didn't you?

Wentworth: He contacted me first with brake trouble. Then there were telephone conversations.

The Court: You mean in that ten months' time you hadn't ever called him up?

Wentworth: I could have.


The Court: You said Buick was very much disturbed about this and wanted to get in touch with everybody immediately?

Wentworth: This is correct.

The Court: Ten months went by and you never did anything about this?

Wentworth: Because I was not allowed a campaign to call these people or mail anything to them.

The Court: They asked you to call them.

Wentworth: They said to get these cars whenever you could get your hands on them. When a customer didn't come around I couldn't look up the thing. I thought it was Buick's responsibility....

The Court: Who said you couldn't send letters?

Wentworth: The Service Department at Buick. It was a hush thing. They didn't want the public to know the brakes were bad and they were very alarmed.


The Court: If you don't mind I would like to ask a question. You said you were notified shortly after this model was out that when anybody brought their car in to make sure they didn't go out without having the brakes fixed?

Wentworth: We were notified to get these cars in, but I couldn't get parts, sir, so it dragged on and on.

The Court: What happened when cars came in?

Wentworth: They sat, usually.

The Court: What if somebody came in, did you tell them?

Wentworth: No. I was looking after the best interests of my boss and General Motors. I certainly didn't want to ruin their sales.

The Court: If a man came in with these kind of brakes, the brakes that were on this 1953 model, you said they told you it was a dangerous condition, and any time they came in to see that the brakes were fixed, or tell them about it?

Wentworth: If I told the man I couldn't fix it I was in a lot of trouble. What could I do? We couldn't get parts.

The Court: You mean even if he came in to have his 1,000 mile checkup, like Mr. Friend in June, or came back after his vacation in July or August, you didn't say anything to him about it because you did not have the parts?

Wentworth: That is right.

The Court: Even though you knew it was a very dangerous condition and people might be killed?

Wentworth: Like everything else, and you can get testimony from any of the boys working with me that I was terribly alarmed.... I don't run General Motors.

On the witness stand Wentworth displayed strong concern that the Buick division could not supply him with parts to repair the brake defect. It was not until November 1953 -- well over a year after the offending 1953 Roadmasters were placed on the market -- that Buick began to ease this anguish of its dealers. Elmer Krause, the general service manager of Buick, testified that replacement kits for the defective parts were at that time manufactured. He declared that Buick made 7,988 of these kits available to its dealers in the fourth quarter of 1953, and that 44,126 such kits were produced in the first quarter of 1954. In addition, Buick sent to its dealers throughout the country a special bulletin entitled "Empty Power Brake Reservoirs: 1953 power brake-equipped Buicks." The date of the bulletin was November 2, 1953. Along with the failure of the "O" ring seal in the master brake cylinder, this bulletin revealed another cause of the Roadmaster's brake failure: "This trouble has been diagnosed as a poor fit between the base of the hydraulic cylinder casting and the vacuum can... This then does not permit equal pressure to the 'O' ring seal between the two surfaces and allows vacuum to pull oil from the reservoir pipe past the threads of the retainer holding the seal and primary cup -- then into the can, up the vacuum pipe, and into the engine."

But the principal defect -- the failure of the "O" ring seal -- was identified by Charles Holton, Buick's brake engineer. It was this failure which, without warning, would find the driver pressing his brake foot pedal clear to the floor boards without any braking power resulting. Apparently, to Buick's way of thinking, the manufacturer of such a vehicle was not under any obligation to warn its car buyers of this hazard. Mr. Krause's testimony is right to the point:

Counsel: Mr. Krause, did the Buick Motor Division ever contact the owners of these cars?

Krause: No, sir.

Counsel: Didn't advertise what the conditions were?

Krause: No, sir.

Counsel: Were any parts ever sent to a dealer as replacement unless he asked for them?

Krause: No, sir.

Counsel: I take it nothing was done at all by the Buick Motor Company or Buick division of General Motors unless and until the parts were asked for and then they were given, if possible?

Krause: The parts were ordered by the dealer and shipped to the dealer by us.

Counsel: That is all the Buick Company did?

Krause: Well, other than put out the technical information such as the bulletin you just read there.

Judge Thomas Murphy pressed this inquiry further:

The Court: You didn't call them up and say, get all these cars in and have them repaired?

Krause: No, sir.

Counsel: Why not?

Krause: Well, in the first place that is the obligation of the dealer, and in the second place we don't know who all the owners are or where they are.

Counsel: Did they ever do anything to find out?

Krause: We have no right to tell the dealer how to run his business. He is an independent businessman.

Counsel: But did you do anything to find out?

Krause: No.

In view of the notorious pressure and manipulation of automobile dealers by car manufacturers, Mr. Krause's interposition of dealer independence as a defense for Buick's irresponsibility seems less than charitable. His statement that Buick did not know who all the owners were is hardly straightforward; dealers have lists of all new car buyers, and their addresses are available to the company. While a small percentage of new Buick resales by their original owners !night have made location of these second owners difficult, the overwhelming majority were within reach of the mails. But knowing the names of the owners was not really the problem. The obstacle was, as Charles Holton conceded in court, that Buick does not under any circumstances send letters directly to owners. Nor, according to Mr. Krause, did the Buick division ask its dealers to get these automobiles hack for repair. This statement contrasts with Mr. Wentworth's testimony that Buick did request such action, hut only on condition that the owners were not made aware of the problem.

The evidence seems to favor Mr. Wentworth's version. Testimony in his case showed that the replacement unit provided by Buick was without charge to the owner and that Buick paid the labor cost of installation.

In spite of all the evidence pointing to the negligence of General Motors, Mr. Comstock lost his case. Lawyers for General Motors asked and received a directed verdict right after the plaintiff rested his case. In his opinion, Judge Murphy said it was his belief that General Motors was negligent in not notifying Mr. Friend to have the brakes repaired. But he thought that Mr. Wentworth's action of driving the car without brakes into Comstock's leg was "a new and independent proximate cause of the injury," which superseded the negligence of General Motors.

Comstock appealed to the supreme court of Michigan and set the stage for a memorable opinion by a unanimous court. Justice Edwards rendered a decision overruling the trial judge and sending the case back for a new trial. His words defined certain standards which seem almost elementary, yet which do not operate today:

The braking system is obviously one of the most crucial safety features of the modem automobile. The greatly increased speed and weight of a modem automobile are factors which must be considered in relation to the care which would be reasonable for a manufacturer to use in designing, fabricating, assembling, and inspecting a power brake. A modem automobile equipped with brakes which fail without notice is as dangerous as a loaded gun ...

Defendant's Buick division warned its dealers. It did not warn those into whose hands they had placed this dangerous instrument and whose lives (along with the lives of others) depended upon defective brakes which might fail without notice.

In our view, the facts in this case imposed a duty on defendant to take all reasonable means to convey effective warning to those who had purchased '53 Buicks with power brakes when the latent defect was discovered....

If such a duty to warn of a known danger exists at point of sale, we believe a like duty to give prompt warning exists when a latent defect which makes the product hazardous to life becomes known to the manufacturer shortly after the product has been put on the market. This General Motors did not do....

This record shows that Friend took good care of his automobile. Prompt warning to him would in all likelihood have meant repair before any brake failure occurred. Prompt warning could easily have prevented this accident.

Justice Edwards' opinion, rendered on November 25, 1959, sent the case back for a new trial. But General Motors was in no mood to risk another trial against the background of the stinging rebukes and strict guidelines of the supreme court of Michigan. The company settled with Comstock for $75,000 as compensation for the loss of his leg.

The Comstock case brought out facts revealing the utter abdication of responsibility and a deliberate withholding of lifesaving facts that would have prompted, in other fields of public safety, an investigation by authorities. But the Comstock decision had no impact on public policy. General Motors later settled a case in Pennsylvania involving an engineer whose Roadmaster brakes failed on a hill and sent him to his death. Beyond these two cases, the company emerged unscathed. There was no publicity.

However neglected the lesson of Comstock has been by public agencies, it has become a keystone case for attorneys representing the car manufacturers. Recently, these lawyers seem to have made their voices heard at Chrysler and Ford to the point where the watchword has become, "Automotive danger requires warning." In October 1964 the Ford Motor Company mailed a letter to some 30,000 owners of the 1965 full-sized Fords. The letter said: "In order to provide you with the highest quality product available, the Ford Motor Company has decided to improve the rear suspension. arm attachment by adding a re-enforcement bracket to each side.... We would like you to bring your Ford car up to current specification and appreciate your cooperation in making your car available to your Ford dealer for that purpose."

These are soothing words, more attuned to the ear of a fastidious car owner than to the motorist who might simply want to stay alive. They hardly convey the disaster which might occur if a suspension arm were to break loose from the chassis frame and lead to the vehicle's veering wildly out of control. When asked for further elaboration by the Chicago Daily News, R. C. Graham, national service operations manager of Ford division, replied: "We do not consider the modification II safety factor." Another Ford spokesman, responding to a similar inquiry by Consumers Union, described the offered improvement as nothing more than a refinement to preserve "a quiet ride." The same spokesman said that he did not know how many of the 30,000 Fords which slipped past factory inspectors have had their rear suspension arms reinforced.

In November 1964, Chrysler Corporation sent only to its dealers a bulletin urging them to recall for inspection certain 1965 Plymouth Furys, Chryslers, and full-sized Dodges (denoted by serial numbers) to determine whether the bracket holding the steering gear needed rewelding. As in the Ford case, some 30,000 cars were involved. To Chrysler's credit, it admitted that safety was a consideration in sending out its bulletin. After all, a vehicle's handling could become somewhat difficult should the steering gear break loose. But the company made no attempt to get in touch directly with the car buyer or find out how many unmodified cars were not brought back to dealers.

Consumers Union's automotive consultants considered the Ford case more serious than the Chrysler one. Yet Ford stuck to its story that the letters were sent for the purpose of preserving "a quiet ride."

The fact that automobiles are produced with faulty features or components is commonplace knowledge to those working in the industry. Although he tried later to qualify his statement in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, L. Ralph Mason, manufacturing manager of the Chevrolet division, stated unequivocally in a written message to Chevrolet plant supervisors, "I am deeply concerned about the quality we are building in our cars today." He had good reason to be. The industry's 1965 models fell to new depths of shoddy workmanship. Consumer Reports summarized for its readers the findings of its automobile testing specialists: "The condition of the 1965 cars Consumers Union has bought for test is about the worst, so far as sloppiness in production goes, in the whole ten-year stretch of deterioration that began in 1955. the first year in which U.S. new car sales first approached eight million. Complaint in the trade about the condition of the cars as delivered began to get bitter then and it has continued to be bitter ever since."

Tests of the 1963 models purchased at random by Consumers Union had resulted in thirty-two of thirty-two cars displaying troubles in the first 5000 miles of driving. The defects included rain leaks, a window running out of its channel, door handles that fell off, a broken distributor cap, a speedometer needle that fell back to zero and remained there, a broken seat adjuster, an ignition lock that wouldn't lock, a door that wouldn't latch, engines that leaked oil, directional signals that wouldn't cancel, a grossly inaccurate gas gauge, front wheels out of alignment, and headlights, as the late Mildred Brady of Consumers Union put it, "that aimed at the ground or at the eyes of approaching motorists Or at birds in trees."

Consumers Union's testing facilities in Connecticut are thorough as far as they go, but they are limited by the budgetary considerations of an organization whose only income is subscription payments for its magazine. Each car is tested for a few thousand miles at most. The more latent defects, such as early metal fatigue of suspension arms or rusting-through of hydraulic lines, that would appear on cars driven by ordinary motorists, are not likely to show up and be recorded for the public's safety information.

Some of the most detailed documentation publicly available about defective vehicle construction comes out of litigation against the manufacturer by injured parties. Highly persuasive evidence leading to settlements or verdicts against car makers has involved new cars with headlight failures, leakage of gasoline fumes causing an explosion, a dangerously positioned petcock leading to brake failure on a bus, stuck accelerators, hood latch defects allowing the hood to rear up and slam back through the windshield, defectively designed brakes and steering wheels, door latch and door binge failure. Other cases have come to final judicial decision or have been settled in favor of the plaintiff before the end of trial.

The issue in these cases revolved around either negligent design or negligent construction by the manufacturer. Consequently, these individual cases centering on a particular defect of a particular model cannot be simply dismissed as non-recurring single instances. A "design defect" by definition occurs on all vehicles of that make or model; a "construction defect," arising out of a mass production assembly line, points to a substantial number of vehicles similarly afflicted -- as illustrated above by Ford's rear suspension arm and Chrysler's steering wheel bracket.

A count of court decisions certainly does not constitute a representative sample either of the kind or frequency of vehicle defects. The formidable course that ends with a jury verdict is only, taken in cases that are lucky enough to have extant physical evidence, an intransigent defendant, imaginative counsel and, In most instances, little or no insurance coverage. But the fact that so many of the design defects that are revealed must come to light in court is a severe commentary on how superficially our society evaluates the vehicles role in accidents and injuries. It contrasts sharply with rail, air and marine design hazards which are meticulously investigated and publicly documented by government authorities.

The Senate hearings on automobile safety held in July 1965 elicited testimony from the manufacturers that indicated frequent written notification of dealers concerning defective conditions of new cars, together with corrective instruction and repair kits. (In the past it has been customary for the manufacturer to give the dealer oral notice, especially when the defect was serious and latent.)

Only in a few instances have the manufacturers aimed these "campaigns" directly toward the new car owners. There is no evidence that the manufacturers keep records concerning the number of car owners whose cars are not corrected. A substantial number of motorists are never reached by the dealers, who do not relish advertising any defects of their cars In the local community and who often are instructed by the companies only to make the correction if the customer brings his car in on another matter.

With every new model year, it must be presumed, on the basis of the evidence dealing with breakdowns in product quality, thousands of drivers are driving defective new cars that are likely to be involved in accidents. Hundreds of dealers know this, but are either obeying company orders or are protecting their own interests by remaining silent.


The 1953 Roadmaster case, the Ford suspension arm, and the Chrysler steering wheel bracket are evidence of breakdown in production quality control Even more insidious are hazards that are the products of design. Born of deliberate knowledge, these hazards are far less likely to be admitted by car makers when they are confronted with substantial evidence of their danger. And, of course, motorists are not warned of these hazards in owner's manuals.

The connection between design defects and driver misjudgment or uncontrollable vehicle behavior is so subtle that neither the accident investigator nor the operator is aware of this connection in collisions. Automatic transmission defects illustrate this point with spectacularly tragic consequences. With more and more vehicles employing automatic transmissions, the occurrence of the "engine-powered runaway accident" is rising alarmingly. These accidents display a similar pattern. A vehicle starting from a standstill or at a very low speed careens or lurches completely out of control with startling unexpectancy. For example:

• A young lady enters her garage and gets into her car to go to work. An instant later the car plummets in the wrong direction straight through the back end of the garage.
• A middle-aged woman is maneuvering her car out of a parked position on a busy main street; suddenly the car shoots forward across the street over the sidewalk and crashes fifty feet through a store window, narrowly missing a number of pedestrians and store clerks.
• An automobile is coming out of a parking garage; abruptly it lurches forward and then careens wildly, killing or injuring pedestrians and patrons of a restaurant.
• A woman shopper is trying to back up her car from a street parking area. The automobile's front wheels are against the curb. On pressing tile accelerator to ease out backwards, the vehicle does not respond; the driver presses down further on the gas. The car jumps the curb, crosses an alley to a nearby house and kills a couple sunning themselves in their own back yard.
• A couple drives into a lumber yard. The husband gets out of the car and notices that his wife has stopped three feet short of a marked area. He asks her to pull up the required distance. She shifts to what she thinks is the forward gear. (The car door is open, and he is guiding her.) The car backs up instead; the open door knocks him down and the car runs over him and kills him.

These are actual cases illustrating the common transmission-induced accidents which trap the driver. They occur because of negligent design of the automatic transmission shift patterns. The driver is charged with reckless driving or negligent manslaughter. Rarely does the police officer recognize that the accident he is investigating proceeded from a built-in design hazard that materialized.

In many instances these "drivers errors" are the result of confusion over the bewildering variety of automatic shifting devices offered in different makes and models of automobiles.
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Re: Unsafe At Any Speed: The Designed-In Dangers of the Amer

Postby admin » Tue Oct 29, 2013 9:19 pm

PART 2 OF 2 (CH. 2 CONT'D.)

It is about such design faults that a leading specialist in human engineering, Harvard's Professor Ross McFarland says, "If defects are present, it is only a matter of time before some driver 'fails' and has an accident." ("Human engineering" tries to identify, in advance of manufacture, difficulties in the interaction of man and automobile, so as to permit the safest and most efficient operation of the vehicle by the driver.) Some of this advance design analysis is pretty difficult work. But it takes no science and little foresight to accurately condemn a particularly dangerous transmission shift pattern -- the PNDLR gear quadrant common to Cadillacs, Buicks, Oldsmobiles, Pontiacs, Studebakers and Ramblers over the past ten years. This pattern places the reverse and forward low positions next to each other without separation and frequently with such a slight angular difference that it cannot be detected by feel at the knob end of the lever. The driver is forced to look at the shift lever for confirmation of the gear in use. The driver has to lift the lever to go into reverse. Should he not lift it enough, the car will remain in forward low while the driver is looking backward and expecting the car to move in that direction.

The design of automatic transmissions departed from long accepted principles of all types of mechanical controls (whether on machine tools. hoists. or automobiles) to place neutral between the reverse and forward gears. According to an automotive transmission engineer, Oscar Banker, there was a mechanical situation in the Hydramatic transmission which made the placement of forward adjacent to reverse less costly. By 1956, he said, elimination of this requirement rendered such a shift pattern wholly inexcusable. Still the manufacturers, with one exception, refused to eliminate this hazard. (That exception was Chevrolet division which dropped it In 1957.)

About this time, the Society of Automotive Engineers began to consider the desirability of standardizing the shift pattern. This was the obvious thing to do. The years wore on without any action. At the annual SAE meeting In January 1961, a General Motors' engineer delivered a paper on the new 1961 Model Hydramatic. When he finished, several engineers asked him why the hazardous control pattern was not changed and when the various General Motors divisions intended to replace it He replied, "Never. We now have ten million cars running with it. The die is cast; the rest of you will have to adopt the pattern."

This reaction angered Mr. Banker. He wrote to General Motors' president, John F. Gordon, who replied, "The matter of transmission shift sequence has been discussed on several occasions and we can assure you that the proponents of the two sequences currently used on our cars are equally vehement In their support of what they are now using. Both groups bring forth equally valid reasons for continuing their present practice.... After each review of the situation, our conclusion has been and very probably will continue to be that we will make no change In our present practice." Gordon's letter was dated May 17, 1961. Three years later, GM's representatives offered no objection whatever when the General Services Administration asked for comments about requiring a standard gear quadrant (PRNDL). Included in the GSA standard was the sentence, "In no case shall any forward drive be adjacent to any reverse drive position." General Motors found itself without this split of engineering opinion alluded to by Gordon. The various divisions decided to change over, after nearly a decade of unconscionable delay.

Each year that had passed meant that a new investment could be postponed. As the runaway accidents piled up and federal government insistence loomed on the horizon, the offending car makers relented. All domestic 1966 models have neutral placed between the forward and reverse drive positions.


From instrument panels to windshields, the modern automobile is impressive evidence that the manufacturers put appearance above safety. When it comes to vision, the car makers seem to value their concept of appearance over the driver's right to see.

The least to which any motorist should be entitled is a visual environment that permits him to see the road clearly. But it is highly doubtful whether any driver today, regardless of his visual acuity, could meet the standards of state licensing laws if he had to take the test sitting behind his steering wheel under normal day and night conditions. He would be confronted by interferences that range from irritating and fatiguing eyestrain to total obstruction.

A common complaint by a driver who has struck a pedestrian or another vehicle is, "I didn't see him." The fact is that, in many such instances, he was prevented from seeing because months before his accident the automobile stylists were fashioning his vehicle as if they thought that visibility had nothing to do with driving.

Professor Merrill Allen of Indiana University has shown the utter carelessness of such designers with a vivid demonstration. Sitting in a vehicle about fifteen feet in front of which a man stood on a tree-lined street in broad daylight, Dr. Allen photographed the scene twice. In the first picture, the pedestrian was completely invisible to any driver because of the reflection of the dashboard on the windshield. In the second picture, by simply placing black velveteen on the dash top as a light-absorber, the pedestrian became clearly visible. Few pedestrians ever suspect how frequently their position is entirely beyond the visual range of drivers bearing down on them because designers do not make dash panels and other reflective surfaces glare-free.

With funds from the American Optometric Foundation and the federal government, Professor Allen has been surveying automobiles from the standpoint of adequate visibility. In 1963 he reported the results of a study of fifty-six models of automobiles: "Not a single automobile manufactured in America and neither of the two European products tested could provide a suitable visual environment for daytime driving."

His criteria for such a suitable environment are: (1) that the driver be able to see through the windshield without reduction in contrast or serious reduction in brightness; (2) that he be able to read the instrument panel with a minimum of time away from watching the highway; and (3) that the automobile be free of sources of glare or unnecessary obstructions in the field of view.

As recorded by university specialists in optometry and human engineering, the more serious features which hamper driver vision are:

1. Distortions, waves, ghost images and poor surface polish on windshields and rear and side windows. Most blatantly hazardous Is the plastic "rear window" employed on convertibles which is never clear to begin with, scratches easily and progressively discolors to a brownish opaque tone.

2. Windshield wiper blades and defrosters which do not provide an adequate clear windshield area.

3. Rear-view mirrors with waves and irregularities, often of inadequate size and in improper locations both inside and outside the vehicle. (Until the 1966 models, outside rear view mirrors were not even standard equipment on the vast majority of models.)

4. Windshield wiper assemblies and other chromium ornamentation on corner posts, horn ring, steering wheel, hood, and fender that provide reflecting surfaces which direct the sun's rays directly into the driver's eyes, cause a serious visual disability that amounts to blindness in some situations. William I. Stieglitz, a prominent aviation safety specialist, describes how one car, which has a bright, shiny chrome hub of the steering wheel with two spokes that come out to the side districts, irritates and fatigues him. The sun reflects off the steering wheel to a bright spot on the top of the windshield and visor. Each time he turns the wheel, this light Hashes back and forth before his eyes. "I have to fight it to keep my eye on the road," he says.

5. Dash panel visibility, frequently impaired by the use of low contrast markings, excessive shading in daylight by the hood, or poor night illumination. The design and location of basic controls and instruments, varying according to no rational standards and determined as if their main purpose is to give individuality to a particular model car, confuse the driver and divert his attention from the road. Stieglitz sees such chaos as entirely inexcusable. "Research in aviation," he says, "has proved the value of shape-coded knobs and standard location of controls in minimizing operator errors; none of this has been applied to automobiles. We come out with slogans on the radio: 'Never take your eye off the road,' and then we give the driver a car in which we defy him to turn on a windshield wiper, turn on his lights, turn on a heater or a defroster, without taking his eye off the road to look and find the controls."

6. Many automobiles which persist in using glossy and/or light colors on the dashboard below the windshield. This causes dangerous veiling glare on the inside of the windshield, which causes the driver to look at the windshield as well as through it.

7. Front and rear turn signals, tail lights, and brake lights not always visible throughout a full one hundred and eighty degrees at full effective brightness because they are often buried in bumpers, are shielded by fender or bumper extensions and/or are too small and have inadequate light distribution. Dr. George E. Rowland, a consultant in human engineering, commented on this aspect during a recounting of observations at the 1964 New York Automobile Show for Product Engineering: "Virtually all the rear-end lighting arrangements seen in the show employ lighting first and foremost as a decorative gimmick, with lighting size, shape, and intensity forming a pattern which the stylist hopes will serve as a kind of "make-identity." An alarming number of the longest cars shroud their front and rear lights with sheet metal. They may well be invisible from the side under a variety of night-time and bad-weather driving conditions."

An English optometrist, J. B. Davey, writing in the November 1964 issue of The Ophthalmic Optician, expresses concern over the exporting of some of these hazards: "In spite of their traditional flamboyance: he declares, "American cars at night are difficult to see from the side. Regrettably Vauxhall is following the practice of the parent (General Motors) company and masking front and rear lamps. To distort an American saying, 'What is good for GM is not necessarily good for Great Britain.' Both the BMC 1800 and the Triumph 2000 have fitted 'repeaters' for the Hashing torn indicators so that the driver or rider who is alongside can know when a turn is intended."

8. Windshield corner posts which are still excessively thick and provide dangerous and unnecessary obstruction of vision, particularly on the left side. Professor Allen says: "It would be quite easy, while taming left, to run down a pedestrian, or to be in collision with another car that was approaching on a collision course from the left, and for the driver not to see the hazard until too late, due to the left corner post obstruction." The Road Research Laboratory of the British Government has shown with precise measurements how the field of view can be obscured at a given angle, speed and distance. Also in England, the Society for Motoring Manufacturers and Traders has established that the corner post should not be nearer than twenty-five degrees from the straight ahead position and at twenty-five degrees the maximum permissible obscuration is about four degrees, which is increased by one degree for each five degree increase in the angular distance from straight ahead. No American automobile meets the SMMT standard for the left comer post. This is an especially sharp commentary since European cars-with two or three exceptions, such as the Rover 2000 -- are not noted for many safety features superior to American vehicles.

(The lack of interest of the auto makers in defining and overcoming poor visibility characteristics of the vehicles they sell is well illustrated by the "hidden child" problem that plagues postal drivers. For years, the post office department has been troubled by deaths and injuries to small children who wander close to the front end of postal vehicles close to the curb. The driver, in his stop-and-go delivery routine, is often not aware of their presence. The post office tried every style and type of traffic mirror available commercially but none provided maximum front view vision close to the vehicle. In 1962, a postal worker, Harry M. Knarr, Jr., of Sarasota, Florida, came up with the idea of using an ordinary steel saucepan cover-a pot lid. The full curvature of the polished stainless steel reflecting disc, without the rim employed for the conventional glass surface mirror, provided the driver with a full view of the entire front of his vehicle down to bumper level. Although this mirror design is unpatented and in the public domain, no vehicle manufacturer has yet offered this safety device, estimated by postal authorities to cost $1.70, as standard equipment for its trucks.)

9. The tinted windshield-an option that is being vigorously promoted by the auto makers. Numerous research projects financed by federal grants have shown conclusively that tinted windshields interfere with night driving in particular and that, contrary to popular impression, the tint does not relieve glare from oncoming headlights as much as it reduces light available to the driver. In addition, there is a cruel twist to this optional feature. Since aging decreases visual acuity, the older driver requires more light for seeing as clearly as he did at a younger age. Drivers past forty-five are the car buyers best able to pay for such options as the tinted windshield, captivated as they may be by smooth assurances that this will help them see better. They are being deceived. Studies in this country, reported by Professor McFarland of Harvard, have shown that ordinary windshields absorb twelve per cent of. the light; tinted windshields absorb thirty per cent. Similar findings were registered by the Road Research Laboratory.

Drawing on his own work, on that of Doctors Barry King, P. J. Sutro and R. G. Domey, and on other research sponsored by the Armed Forces Epidemological Board, Professor McFarland makes this judgment on the use of tint: "In the valuation of tinted windshields the age of the driver is an extremely important factor, since it has been established that with Increasing age there is a decrease in the retina's sensitivity to light under low levels of illumination. If during night driving [when accident rates are three times higher than in the daytime] this decrease in light sensitivity is combined with the reduced transmission of light through tinted glass, a serious safety problem may arise.... Studies have indicated that at any age the effect of the tinted glass at night is a reduction in the visibility of lights and other objects near the threshold of perception."

Dr. McFarland is a pioneer in the science of designing motor vehicles to fit the operational needs and safety of drivers and passengers. He has written scores of professional articles in the restrained, severe style of the detached scientist. His assessment of tinted windshields constitutes an expression of deep concern over industry neglect.

Dr. Allen sums up the case of vision specialists against the industry: "The blame for the thousands of lives lost each year lies in part at least with the automobile manufacturers, for not a single visual handicap engineered into modern automobiles needs to be there. There are some good visual aspects to each manufacturer's products, but the faults in each are so serious as to make it seem that the good points must have been accidental. Indeed, the good features one year are often replaced in the next year's production by glaringly poor ones," [1]

It is clear that the reason for such apparently random fluctuations is that design decisions belong to the stylists. Almost every vision engineering defect can be eliminated by the car makers both easily and economically, The knowledge, standards and instruments have long been available to do the job. There need be no aesthetic penalty, only a reduction in garishness.

The car industry's response to criticism of the poor visual environment provided by their vehicles was silence. Non- industry research findings were ignored; no contact has been established for the meaningful dialogue. The companies make no attempt to contribute to a meaningful scientific literature on this subject.

Motorists who write to the companies complaining about glare from glossy surfaces and asking why something can't be done about it receive the reply that available remedies would interfere with the decor of the rest of the vehicle.

In testimony before the House Subcommittee on Health and Safety in 1959, the usual "we are doing research on the problem" and "the consumer wouldn't like it" combination that has become the standard industry response, was tendered by Paul Ackerman, a Chrysler vice president and official spokesman for the Automobile Manufacturers Association.

Representative Paul Schenck said to him, "Many of us have had a great deal of difficulty driving toward the sun from the reflection from the hood, dash, and other chrome parts of the car, I wondered about that." Ackerman answered, "That, sir, is a problem. The reflection from the hood and from the interior surfaces in the windshield is a thing that we do not like. We haven't found a satisfactory solution to it. I would say that if we were, if it would be acceptable to the people who buy our products to have hoods and the upper portion of the instrument panel with a very dull nonreflective surface that looks pretty bad but is pretty effective in reducing the reflection, some good can be done:

Schenck asked him if Chrysler was working on it, and Ackerman said, "Yes, we have developed many types of finishes trying to find an acceptable one:

A few minutes later, in response to a question from Representative Lawrence Brock, Mr. Ackerman assured the subcommittee that he did "not want to leave the impression here that we put ornamentation or chrome on the cars at the expense of any known improvement to safety."

Mr. Ackerman assumed that American industrial ingenuity had not and could not up to that lime produce non-glare finishes that would not incite a consumer revolt. This assumption was unchallenged by the numerous suppliers who could have easily provided such finishes. Suppliers to the auto industry have long since learned the penalties of pricking the absurd balloons that the Industry proffers as rationalizations for dangerous designs. And Mr. Ackerman did not explain to the Congressmen why it took "more research" to bring finishes back to the lower glare levels of automobiles built a decade or two previously.

Five and a half years after the 1959 hearings the industry apparently was still trying to develop the proper type of finish while their vehicles proliferated in glints, gleams, and glares. In November 1964, when the General Services Administration began working on the safety standards for federally purchased passenger vehicles (as stipulated by Public Law 88-515) there was a rare occasion to learn of the industry's view. Industry sources notified GSA officials that it would cost the government additional money to buy cars without existing glare! There was no elaboration of the remarkable implication that glare was an economy move. When GSA persisted In formulating a glare-reducing standard, the Industry advisory committee to GSA tried to make sure the standard would be easy for Industry to tolerate. It was. Besides watered-down standards, all parts of the vehicle except for the instrument panel and the windshield wipers were excluded. Non-industry advice to apply the standard to all other surfaces such as steering wheel, horn ring, hood, cowl, fenders and hood ornaments was rejected by GSA officials on industry's insistence. Ford's Alex Haynes said, "It was not practical in the way of manufacturing processing."

Willis MacLeod, chief of GSA's standardization division, asked the industry representatives whether they could provide for the 1967 models (as the law designates) a no-glare windshield wiper arm to replace chrome-plated types. Chrysler's Roy Haeusler replied, "Without any question. That could be available in two years." Nobody bothered to ask why they have not been available right from the beginning.

At the same November specification development conference held by GSA, the subject of tinted windshields came up briefly. MacLeod asked the industry's leading safety engineers around the conference table whether or not a standard should specify the inclusion of tinted windshields as a relief to the human eye. This was an honest inquiry to engineering experts by MacLeod and his colleagues who were just getting their feet wet in the area of automobile design safety.

Larry Nagler of American Motors promptly replied: "We would be glad to sell them." MacLeod then asked, "If it is a useful safety device, why isn't it standard?" William Sherman, the silver-tongued spokesman of the Automobile Manufacturers Association answered as if the matter were wholly one of personal consumer taste instead of objective scientific study: "I think this is one of those things that if anyone believes that it is worth while, it can be specified and provided, like some of these others. If you desire it, it can be specified."

Not a single industry representative made any mention of the deleterious effects on vision so long documented and so well known to them. GSA was to be "sold," not informed.

The record did not show the reason for Mr. Sherman's reluctance to admit the visual hazards of tinted glass. Mr. Sherman is the self-styled "world's greatest advocate of air conditioning in automobiles." Tinted glass reduces heat transmission into the automobile, thus creating a more hospitable environment for air conditioning, the most expensive option in automobile history.

It is not only in connection with visibility characteristics that the automobile companies have so flagrantly neglected to design vehicles in terms of human capabilities and limitations. Across the entire, range of vehicle-man interaction, the companies have shown little interest in systematic analysis of automotive features involving the physical and psychological response of the driver. General Motors, for example, claims to have twenty-five thousand scientists and engineers on its employment rolls. Yet it is doubtful whether any full-time human engineering specialists are employed to determine the design faults which place strains on the driving task. Without such a concept of design, and meticulous attention to its implementation, haphazardness of style will continue to be the order of the day in laying out vehicle work space, designing controls, instruments, and window areas, and in providing a physical environment for the driver.

The problem is stated succinctly by Dr. McFarland: "In general, any control difficult to reach or operate, any instrument dial of poor legibility, any seat inducing poor posture or discomfort, or any unnecessary obstruction to vision may contribute directly to an accident."

In addition, McFarland and his associates at Harvard have done ground-breaking human engineering analyses of dozens of passenger cars and trucks since 1950. These studies have produced highly usable data on existing vehicle designs in terms of the operational requirements of the driver and his seating comfort. They also provided standards and criteria for improvements in the design and location of steering wheels, controls, instruments and work space for virtually all drivers, no matter what their size.

The findings by McFarland's group were not trivial. For example: "In several of the commercial vehicles [trucks] evaluated, only five per cent of the drivers could comfortably reach and operate the hand brake. In other vehicles, only sixty per cent of the drivers could be accommodated for knee height between the pedals and the steering wheel. Many tall drivers were unable to adjust their sitting positions to obtain maximum visibility in relation to their instruments and the road ahead.... Probably the' most striking defect was that the front of the seat could not be lowered without excessive pressure under the knees. Some of the medical problems frequently observed in truck drivers are believed to be related to poor seat design and to failure to provide adequate shock absorbers.

"When one truck model was evaluated, it was discovered that the taller drivers could not operate the foot brake when the gear lever was in either of the two left positions. It was impossible for a large driver to put his foot on the brake pedal without first shifting gears. This defect should have been eliminated in the preproduction stages of the vehicle.

"One serious accident resulted when a driver, while proceeding at high speed in a modem car, shut off his headlights in the belief that he was operating the cigarette lighter. The knobs for these two controls were identical in shape and size and were located near each other on the dashboard.

"The brake and accelerator pedals in some vehicles are so placed that the driver must make lengthy movements in three directions before the brake can be activated, i.e. up, over, and down. Sometimes the two pedals are of identical design and material, and therefore it is impossible for the driver to distinguish the pedals by touch alone. Undoubtedly this defect has been responsible for many critical situations, especially with drivers new to the vehicle, and has probably caused a number of accidents."

Dr. Richard Domey, a research associate of McFarland's, stated the objective of the Harvard research: "The design of seats, work space layout, reach and effort requirements and spatial locations must be carefully controlled if fatigue, monotony, and errors are to be reduced and comfort, safety, and efficiency are to be increased. Machines should be designed for the people who use them and for the environment in which both are expected to function.... There is no evidence that a design cannot be developed that would accommodate all the driver population, perhaps with the exception of anthropometric oddities."

The Harvard research provided data of undeniable practical value free of charge to the automobile industry. But the industry did not respond. According to Dr. Domey, the Harvard researchers have been discussing the problem with the automobile companies for over a decade, pleading with them to look at the data and consider them, but to no avail.

Until mid-1965, the automobile companies did not feel it necessary even to reply to criticisms of their products by competent scientific and engineering critics. The ability to ignore criticism, rather than to meet the issues raised, is one measure of the immunity to public responsibility that has characterized the automotive Industry's position on safety matters. However, there was a conference on passenger car design held at West Point in 1961, where Industry representatives were asked point-blank why automobile design for human safety had remained so aloof from known principles and remedies applied to other transport machines and equipment Chrysler's long-time safety engineer Roy Haeusler replied, "Safety considerations are far from the only ones which determine whether knobs are chrome or black, whether they are completely recessed or partially exposed, whether they are uniformly located and of different shapes. I think this is simply an obvious Indication that there are other factors governing the decisions, and the other factors might not, In my estimation at least, be half so important as safety considerations."

Haeusler must have felt subdued at that point In the conference. Just a few minutes before, Robert Janeway, who had finished a long career of engineering research with Chrysler, gave an illustration from Chrysler experience that showed how many safety design improvements had absolutely nothing to do with added cost: "I have two automobiles that are just one model-year apart, made by the same manufacturer, In which pushbutton controls are completely reversed. Let alone not having standardization among manufacturers, here is the same manufacturer switching controls from one year to the next, and when I get into one car I have to straighten myself out on reverse, neutral, and forward positions. There's certainly no excuse for that, and I think most of these things are pretty glaring examples of just, you might say, indifference."

The car makers display no such Indifference to human engineering principles when they want to use them as a basis for obtaining patents to inventions. Securing a strong patent position is apparently a much stronger motivation than the safety of motorists. A case in point is patent number 2,929,261, issued in 1960 to GM vice president Charles Chayne and assigned to his company. It notes that for vehicle controls to be acceptable, "they must not only be easily operated but also accessible to the operator with a minimum of inconvenience." The driver, Mr. Chayne informs us, "should not be required to reach any substantial distance to operate a particular control. Furthermore, safety is a concern since the control must be of the type that an operator would not inadvertently operate under normal conditions." Persuasive words for the patent examiner at the United States Patent Office. But not persuasive at all, apparently, as far as General Motors designers are concerned. The 1964 Buick Electra 225 has the power brake pedal and gas pedal so close together and so close to the same level that drivers have inadvertently hit both pedals simultaneously. In the same model year, Buick advertisements urged the consumer to appreciate the consideration behind Buick's stick shift, which "was planned that way to put the adventure back into driving." The reader might not know of another General Motors promotional brochure which a few years before boasted about the safety advance brought about by the replacement of the stick shift with the steering column shift.

Another GM patent, number 3,097,542, states that "in recent years, traffic density and high speed operation of vehicles has greatly increased the need for minimizing the time required in application of the brakes. In emergency situations, delays of even small fractions of a second in elapsed time may make the difference between a successful stop and a disastrous accident." Solicitude for these fractions of seconds seems to have been shunted aside by the designers of chrome trim around the edges of the pedals that is beginning to appear on some of the more expensive cars, called "GT" models. Such metal trim increases the risk of one's foot slipping off the pedal in the process of braking or clutching.

More important than brake application is how efficiently brakes perform when called upon to do their task-a task that has grown more demanding with increasing speeds, greater horsepower, and the fact that automatic transmissions have limited retarding ability on hills. The improvement of braking systems has miserably failed to keep pace. Dangerous brake fade persists. Even under single-stop conditions at ordinary turnpike speeds, some models are incapable of braking efficiently, and swerve dangerously when making an emergency stop. The men responsible for American automobile design cannot provide the flimsiest excuse for the gap between the accelerating momentum of passenger cars and trucks and their relative braking ability. There were European solutions available which American manufacturers could have copied faster than they have done in the past. Disc brakes-universally acclaimed as superior over conventional brakes -- were available on some European cars over a decade ago. On some 1965 models in this country, disc brakes were gingerly introduced (mostly as an option, on two wheels), in accord with the domestic policy of putting key safety features on the same level as luxurious items or trivial gewgaws.

Anti-skid braking systems for optimum traction have been developed in Europe as well. A 1959 Commerce Department report emphasized the need for incorporating such systems in motor vehicles. It added: "Anti-locking devices are used on aircraft; the ingenuity of the motor vehicle designer is adequate to give similar safety to the automobile user in this important area. This prerequisite for safe brakes still has not been adopted to give motorists protection in common sudden-stop situations."

The wide variety in quality of brake linings and brake fluids also provides a grisly risk for the lives of thousands. The problem of adequate brakes for trucks and buses is further complicated by the designers' reliance on the rated gross vehicle weight of the particular vehicle size. Loads beyond such a limit obviously have an adverse effect on brake performance. No other vehicle design feature is so frequently a hidden factor in auto casualties as brakes. Unused brake technology remains on the shelf at the automobile plant, while inadequate brake design continues to be a prime example of vehicle failure being interpreted as driver failure.


The singular ineffectiveness of incriminating data and critical analyses of automobile design by sources outside the industry during the last twenty years has been strongly sustained by the protective anonymity given makes and models of automobiles involved in that data.

In 1965 the mask of anonymity began to be lifted For the first time in television history, a program titled "Death on the Highway," shown on National Educational Television stations, connected specific design hazards with car models-Pontiac Tempest, Chrysler Newport, Ford Mustang and others. Newspapers, after ignoring for months the volume of Corvair litigation, began to mention it in their columns. Consumer Reports and Consumer Bulletin no longer were the only segment of the communications media which linked hazards with brand names.

A fundamental basis for this tradition of anonymity has been the practice of academic and commercial compilers of data to refrain from naming makes and models. The popular media bad little specific nourishment for its copy.

For example, none of the voluminous reports by the McFarland group contained vehicle names. In 1959 to 1960, other federally financed research at Dunlap and Associates of Stanford, Connecticut, to study the differences in accident experience of various makes of automobiles produced reports entirely devoid of vehicle names. In May 1964 Popular Science reported the results of brake tests for leading American car makes. Stopping distance at sixty-five miles per hour ranged from 170 feet to 359 feet. One leading make required more than twice the stopping distance of another popular make. No names were mentioned. Again in 1964, the National Association for Stock Car Advancement and Research (NASCAR) conducted evaluation tests on nineteen brands of replacement brake linings. The NASCAR report concluded, "These tests indicate a vast difference in brake lining quality. Only five of the nineteen brands tested met minimum traffic safety code specifications. The public should exercise utmost caution when their cars need brake service. It is strongly advised that motorists seek out only the best linings obtainable. NASCAR findings indicate that the use of inferior brake lining products could be extremely hazardous." NASCAR never identified the brands tested.

John Fitch, the automotive specialist from Lime Rock, Connecticut, noted with careful anonymity in 1961, "Before 1955 we had a phenomenon in our cars which was very serious. No one even talked about it and they don't talk about it now, although a few cars still have it I'm referring to rear leaf-spring wind-up, where the rear spring, in reaction to braking torque, actually takes the shape of a flat 'S'. Now, when the tire breaks traction from the road, that spring snaps back to near its original shape and it sets up an oscillation in which both rear wheels jump off the ground, bounce back down, and the car is practically uncontrollable. This happens only under severe braking, but every now and then severe braking is necessary, and whenever it happens you can almost say that the car is out of control." Mr. Fitch's comment was made at the aforementioned West Point conference attended by twenty-one specialists from various disciplines inside and outside the industry. The papers and discussion were very specific-except for naming makes and models. Mr. Janeway managed to deliver a long paper on vehicle design aspects of safe handling containing a deadly criticism of the Corvair-type design but never mentioning the car by name. It simply wasn't cricket to do so. Anonymity gave the Corvair a valuable windfall of many months before a critical focus began to sharpen on its handling hazards.

Even Consumers Union succumbs Once in a while to the habit. "A popular 1956 upper-medium priced model of American manufacture had a defect so basic that a large number of owners were stranded by complete transmission failure in the early months of ownership," said one of its reports.

The anonymity perpetuated by specialists outside the industry undermines the principle of informed consumer choice and industrial competition which form the bedrock of enterprise economy. It does to the economy what censorship of ideas does to a democracy. No other consumer product has enjoyed such immunity of specific criticism. The automobile, by brand name, stands as a sacred cow.

In July, 1965, before the Senate committee inquiring into traffic safety, Senators Abraham Ribicoff and Robert Kennedy confronted General Motors chairman Frederic Donner and president James Roche with a November 1964 Cornell report showing a much greater door hinge failure by General Motors cars than by Ford or Chrysler vehicles. For the first time in twelve years (with one insignificant exception) Cornell had named vehicle makes and the relative performance of one common design feature.

Yet secrecy still remains the order of the day. The files of the Association of American Railroads contain reports of about one hundred and seventy rail crossing accidents involving an unnamed make of American automobile manufactured in the 1961 model-year. The first 47,000 of these automobiles, it seems, were built with no skid plate, thus allowing the front cross member to dig into the road, given a certain undulation such as occurs when crossing some railroad tracks. The ear would go end over head or roll over, or simply dig in while the passengers continued right through the windshield. The most serious injuries and deaths were recorded in these single-car upsets at speeds between fifteen and thirty miles per hour. Apparently later production runs of this model corrected the defect, but many buyers of the first 47,000 found out the hard way about designers' omissions. This tragic episode, also well known to several insurance companies who have documented street accidents in their files, still remains a classical example of the anonymity that has cloaked the designed-in dangers of the American automobile.



1. See Appendix I on how to rate your automobile for visually safe design.
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Re: Unsafe At Any Speed: The Designed-In Dangers of the Amer

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Chapter 3: The Second Collision: When Man Meets Car

In the fall of 1917, two Canadian "Jennies" -- small airplanes technically known as JN-4's -- collided seven hundred feet above a small Texas airstrip. Of the four flyers who were manning the two-seated planes, the only survivor was a young air cadet named Hugh De Haven.

As he lay in the hospital recovering from serious internal injuries -- caused, paradoxically, by a poorly designed six-inch- ide seat belt with a six-inch bronze buckle -- he wondered why he had not been killed. When he recovered he inspected the wreckage of the two planes and observed that, of the four cockpits, the one in which he had been seated had remained substantially intact, while the other three bad disintegrated.

From this one man's sense of wonder evolved a major life-saving concept of the twentieth century: that the human body can withstand tremendous decelerative forces inflicted by crashes or falls. To be capable of tolerating such impacts in transport vehicles the human needed a "crashworthy" structure around him.

For the next twenty years De Haven could not find anyone who agreed with him. In this interval, while free-lancing as a successful designer of automatic equipment, he continued to press his belief that accidents can be made far safer through rational investigation of the mechanisms of injury in air crashes, many of which occurred during this period at speeds well under one hundred miles per hour. De Haven was turned away repeatedly by government and university people who called him a "crackpot." In the twenties and thirties, he recalls, "The saying used to be, 'If you want to be safe, don't fly.'"

De Havens curiosity was not dampened. He began to study cases of spectacular suicide plunges or accidental falls by people who "miraculously" survived.

A forty-two-year-old woman jumped from the sixth floor of a building and fell fifty-five feet onto fairly well-packed earth in a garden plot. The building superintendent rushed over to the victim right after she struck the ground, saw her raise herself on her elbow and remark, "Six stories and not hurt." A subsequent examination showed no evidence of material injuries or shock.

A man fell 108 feet from a tenth story window and landed on the hood and fenders of an automobile, face downward. He bounced off the car to the pavement. His chief injury was a depressed frontal fracture of the skull. He did not lose consciousness and recovered in short order.

A twenty-seven-year-old man jumped from the roof of a fourteen-story building, falling 146 feet onto the top and rear of the deck of an automobile and landing in a semi-supine position. He suffered numerous fractures• but did not lose consciousness and incurred no chest or head injuries. Two months later he was back at work.

A woman fell 144 feet from a seventeenth floor and landed on a metal ventilator box. She crushed the structure up to a depth of eighteen inches, fractured both bones of both her forearms and the bone of her left upper arm, and injured her left foot. She sat up and asked to be taken back to her room. Subsequent examination revealed no other internal injuries or fractures.

Hugh De Haven pointed out that any of the injuries suffered in these documented cases could have been the results of a five-foot fall. He saw these cases of survival as evidence that the objects and surfaces struck by the body do less damage if the forces involved are spread over time and area. This is elementary physics. A fall on a surface that "gives," such as a pile of hay, spreads the force over time. Poking someone with the end of a baseball bat instead of an ice pick spreads the force over area. Dr. Carl Clark of the Martin Company put the distinction neatly: "Damage is done not by the force, but by the distortions produced as a consequence of this force."

This relationship between the surface hit and the injury that results was recognized by Hippocrates in about 400 B.C. In his treatise on head injuries he wrote, "Of those who are wounded in the parts about the bone, or in the bone itself, by a fall, he who falls from a very high place upon a very hard and blunt object is in most danger of sustaining a fracture and contusion of the bone, and of having it depressed from its natural position; whereas he that falls upon more level ground, and upon a softer object, is likely to suffer less injury in the bone, or it may not be injured at all ..." From his own studies and these basic principles, De Haven concluded, "A person who escapes in a high speed crash, fatal to many others, owes his life to some decelerative interval and to a favorable distribution of pressure.... It is significant that crash survival without injuries in aircraft and automobiles occurs under conditions which are seemingly extreme and that fatal injuries are often sustained under moderate and controllable circumstances. It is reasonable to assume that structural provisions to reduce impact and distribute pressure can enhance survival and modify injury within wide limits in aircraft and automobile accidents."

Centuries ago, men had put these principles into practice in preparing for combat and in transporting fragile goods. They used shields and armor to dissipate force, and spears and knives to concentrate it For carrying pottery and porcelains over great distances and rugged terrains by ships and caravans, they used effective packaging techniques to avoid "crash impacts."

But something happened to men's rationality when they placed themselves in vehicles -- chariots, wagons, carriages, boats, trains, automobiles and aircraft. Death and injury from crash impacts in these carriers were called "acts of God" or "bad luck;" escape from casualties in accidents was called "a miracle." Even people whose training should have made them receptive to empirical explanations believed that forces involved in automobile or air crashes were too severe for the human body to absorb under any circumstances. So they concentrated on preventing accidents rather than on preventing injuries when accidents do occur.

The advent of World War II provided a little more receptive climate for De Haven's findings, especially as they might be applied to aircraft. With the strong backing of Dr. Eugene D. DuBois of the Cornell University Medical College, De Haven began a study of the causes of injury in aircraft accidents. He found that wounds of the heart and lungs, punctured by fractured ribs, and brain damage with and without skull fracture were prominent categories of injuries. Such injuries were sustained not just in completely disintegrated aircraft, but also in cockpits and aircraft cabins which had remained intact with little damage. De Haven called the latter kind of crashes "survivable accidents" in order to focus attention on the need for deliberate engineering for crash-survival. The first important outcome of his work was the development of improved restraining equipment to keep the pilot from striking rigid metal surfaces and instruments inside the cockpit. Aircraft manufacturers producing war planes began to pick up the safety implications of De Haven's work. Under the leadership of such dogged safety engineers as Republic Aviation's William Stieglitz and Douglas Aircraft's A. M. Mayo and John R. Poppen, fighter and light civil aircraft began to appear with more strongly moored seat structures, less lethal instrument panels, and more crash-resistant cockpit and cabin structures.

Stieglitz described the crash of a fighter airplane which went off the end of the runway at about 170 knots, flew for about 1200 feet, hit the ground, skidded for about 500 feet, and then went nose first into a six-foot earth embankment, cartwheeled, and disintegrated. The pilot crawled out by himself and rolled on the ground to put out the flames of his burning flying suit. Aside from minor burns, his total physical injury consisted of a cut on his little finger. Inspection of the wreckage showed the plane to be sheared off right down the back wall of the cockpit. But the cockpit had remained intact and the pilot, who had been restrained only by a standard lap seat belt and shoulder harness, was flying again in three months.

Dr. John Lane of the Australian Department of Civil Aviation, a pioneer in the field of crash protection, told a group of crash specialists in 1961, "We have a whole stack of thoroughly investigated accidents (involving military and light aircraft), thoroughly documented, in which the aircraft will do something like this: they will run through a power line -- a high tension line -- catch fire in the air, and impact the ground vertically at something on the order of seventy or eighty knots. The pilot will emerge from the debacle and simply go to call up and say, 'Send me a new aircraft.'"

De Haven was sure that if collision protection engineering could be so effective in aircraft design, it would also be applicable to the automobile. During the late forties, substantiation of his belief was furnished by others. A perceptive Indiana state policeman, Sergeant Elmer Paul, thought of it as the problem of the "second collision." In his analysis, most accident situations involved the impact of the vehicle with whatever it hit (the first collision), followed instantaneously by the impact of the occupants with the inside of the vehicle (the second collision). This second collision was what caused killing and maiming. To find out what objects inside the vehicle were responsible for injuries, and in what severity and frequency, Paul persuaded the Indiana authorities to establish the first systematic investigation of injury occurrence in automobiles wrecked on the state's highways. Close contact was established with De Haven's Cornell crash injury research project, which was beginning to turn its attention to automobile accident injury problems. The Cornell project unfortunately was plagued by the lack of financial support. Since it focused on vehicle design, it involved evaluating the products of Detroit, and this was dangerous territory, not trespassed for nearly half a century. But in 1951 the Air Force made a simple statistical comparison which revealed that it was losing more men-dead and injured-in automobile accidents than in combat in Korea. Other branches of the armed forces looked over their rolls and found similarly shocking comparisons. So the first grant to the Cornell project came in 1953 from the Army under the technical guidance of the Armed Forces Epidemiological Board. The initial grant was $54,000, and over the next eight years the total went up to $500,000. The Cornell group began a nationwide data-collection system about the second collision. This was achieved largely through the cooperation of about twenty states and five cities, which arranged for the dispatch of special accident reports, photographs, and medical reports showing vehicular damage, the nature and extent of injuries, and the vehicle features or components that were believed to have caused the injuries.

Military foresight made one other great contribution to crash injury research. Colonel John Paul Stapp of the United States Air Force risked his life to prove how tough the human anatomy can be in tolerating tremendous forces. True to the best heritage of his two professions, medicine and physics, Stapp devised the experimental equipment and chose himself as the guinea pig. In 1954 he culminated a series of tests begun in the late forties. Strapping himself into a giant sled powered by four solid-fuel Jato-type rocket motors and capable of supersonic speeds, he shot forward to a speed of 632 miles per hour-and stopped in 1.4 sec. at decelerations in excess of 40 g. (This means that the force on his body was equivalent to forty times his weight.) No other human being in history had "pulled down" so many "g's" voluntarily for such a period. With this historic demonstration, Stapp proved that if the human body had such tremendous tolerance for abrupt deceleration, it could also survive even the most severe vehicle collisions with little or no injury if the vehicle environment was safely designed.

During this same seminal period of the early fifties, the third phase of crash protection research was launched at the University of California at Los Angeles under the leadership of J. H. Mathewson and D. M. Severy. This involved the experimental crashing of automobiles to determine deceleration rates, vehicle damage, and the effects on instrument-laden anthropomorphic dummies strapped in the seats. In 1954 the UCLA group concluded that "there has been no significant automotive engineering contribution to the safety of motorists since about the beginning of World War II .... On the basis of mounting accident-injury data Bowing into it from areas throughout the country, the Cornell Automotive Crash Injury Research (ACIR) annual report in 1955 provided statistical confirmation: "The newer model automobiles (1950-1954) are increasing the rate of fatalities in injury-producing accidents.

Until Stapp, UCLA, and Cornell began their tests and collected data, the public had no choice but to rely upon the automobile manufacturers as its sole source of information about the second collision. The industry had the field to itself and chose to dispense no information whatever.

The opening of independent sources of information on automobile hazards and their relation to injuries inflicted by the second collision is giving this country its first detailed critical look at what happens when cars crash, and what is needed to make them crashworthy. The Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory, which became the heir to ACIR in 1961, lists three general requirements for collision protection in a vehicle: 1) a sound outer shell structure which will retain its structural integrity under impact -- and absorb as much energy as possible -- without allowing undue penetration of the striking object into the passenger compartment; 2) elimination from the interior surfaces of the shell any hard, sharp projections Or edges and the prevention of vehicle components (such as steering columns and engines) from penetrating into the compartment; also the application of energy-absorbing materials to reduce impact forces on the human body at all probable points of contact with these surfaces; and 3) provision of passenger restraint systems, not necessarily restricted to seat belt devices, to prevent or minimize relative body motion and abrupt contact with the interior of the automobile, at the same time inducing little or no physiological damage to the passenger due to the operation of these restraint systems.

These Cornell criteria might seem to be based simply on common sense, but they are formulated on the basis of over 70,000 accident cases from which the processed data (see Fig. 3) has produced a ranking of leading causes of injury-the cause in this study, being whatever particular feature or component of the vehicle inflicts the injury when the car is stopped and the occupant keeps going.

The steering assembly

'The most flagrant instrument of trauma in Cornell's automobile autopsy is the steering assembly. It caused approximately twenty per cent of the injuries in the data sample taken during the past decade. As would be expected, it is the driver who is most often injured by the steering assembly, either by being thrown forward into it or by being impaled on a ramming steering column. 'The latter kind of impact is the less common of the two but represents a disproportionate cause of serious injury. [1]

For years, the most common feature of crumpled automobiles has been a rearward displaced or arched steering column with broken spokes and bent wheel rims. Led by Ford, in 1956-1957 the auto makers introduced the recessed-hub steering wheel. The purpose of setting the hub below the plane of the wheel rim was to allow the rim to absorb the first force of impact before the driver struck the rigid and frequently sharp-edged hub. But Cornell follow-up data analysis, comparing the relative effectiveness of this new design and the old Hat wheel type, has shown only a "weak tendency" toward a reduction in chest injury.

Robert A. Wolf, Director of Automotive Crash Injury Research, urges the automobile designers "to turn their talents toward developing an improved form of energy-absorbing steering wheel -- something with several times the effectiveness of the present family of wheels." He has prepared sketches of various proposed wheels which would absorb energy and still protect the driver from the instrument panel and windshield. (See Fig. 4)


Wolf notes that the concept behind such shock-absorbing steering wheels has not been accepted in actual product development by automobile manufacturers. His evaluation of the reasons for this lag points to the lack of systematic search to find the best solutions. Actually, such a search needs only a management decision to go ahead. Patents that incorporated increasingly advanced energy-absorbing steering assemblies were issued to the manufacturers and other inventors beginning in the twenties. Automobile company representatives have a standard answer to, the assertion that patents exist for various safety features. It was voiced by Ford president Arjay Miller when Senators Ribicoff and Robert Kennedy pressed him at the 1965 Senate hearings to explain why a number of his company's patents of such steering assemblies, or modifications of them, still had not been incorporated into the design of Ford cars. "We have got thousands of patents in the Ford Motor Company," he said, "that are not worthy of the light of day. You patent an idea you have." Clearly, as Mr. Miller should know, a company-held patent represents a stage of knowledge concerning a useful invention. The patents, along with their predecessors, define with some precision an important safety problem in motor vehicle crashes. It would be insulting to the suppressed creativity of auto industry engineers to suggest that such technology could not have been perfected for mass produced automobiles over a decade ago. This is an area where safer alternatives are "on the shelf."

The industry's shrugging off its patent holdings in crash safety technology as just "ideas" contrasts with what their engineers write in their professional journals. In 1953, George Willits, director of General Motors' patent section, emphasized that "GM patents are distinguished from the ordinary run in that almost all of them cover practical ideas. Our inventors know the practical possibilities in the fields in which they work."

Industry reaction to findings by Cornell and others about the hazards of steering columns is revealing. Cornell's data analysis showed great differences in the frequency of steering column penetration among different types of cars. ACIR reports that "in accidents of similar severity some classes of cars are about twice as likely as others to have steering column penetration. These findings emphasize the need for drastic corrective action by the automobile industry." At one point in 1963, Mr. Wolf showed rare exasperation when he told an audience of automobile safety specialists, "There is no point in endless descriptions of the possible spectrum of engineering solutions to the problem of steering column penetration. I have no doubt whatsoever that the ingenuity of the engineers will rise to the occasion if they are given a clear directive, by management, to solve the problem."

Dr. Horace Campbell, a Denver surgeon with many articles on auto design hazards to his credit, noticed during his investigations of automobile accidents that the Corvair steering shaft was routinely driven backward and upward in even minor left front-end collisions. He noted that the steering shaft extends from a point about two inches in front of the leading surface of the front tire -- a design unique among American cars. He wrote to Harry Barr, now General Motors' vice president for engineering on October 26, 1962, inquiring about the apparent likelihood of impaling the driver on a steering shaft that takes all the impact not absorbed by the bumper and sheet metal. .Barr replied that Chevrolet had conducted tests which showed to its satisfaction that there was no problem. What kinds of tests and with what results Barr did not mention. Campbell could find no One anywhere in the country, certainly not a governmental agency, who could provide an answer to his question. Consumer Reports in April 1965 took specific note of the danger of the Corvair's steering shaft position and indicated it was trying to set up tests with Automotive Crash Injury Research to find an answer. But nothing had materialized as of August 1965. ACIR has been reluctant to disclose the make and model names of vehicle performance in data analysis of steering shaft penetration.

Dr. Campbell had a specific reason to pursue his quest for information about the Corvair shaft. On January 19, 1962, Milford Horn, a Denver engineer, driving at a slow speed, skidded in his Corvair on an icy road into the side of a slowly moving locomotive. Dr. Campbell investigated the accident and gave the following report to the Seventh Stapp Car Crash Conference in November 1963: "Horn had died instantly at the scene with a completely broken neck. The state patrolman told me to go and see the car and I would then understand why. The man's character [Horn's] was revealed on my inspection of the car. There were four seat belts; his widow told me later that every belt had to be fastened before he would start the engine. There were four electric flashing Signal lights, to be placed on the road in case a tire change became necessary.

"His car, a 1961 Corvair, was extensively damaged at the left front comer. The huh of the steering wheel was displaced, by actual measurement against another car of the same make, two feet upward and backward. It broke his neck. He had no other injuries of consequence.

"The man who towed his car in told me that in every car of this make which he brought in with left front deformation, the steering shaft is driven backward, often more than a foot."

In a final attempt at communication, in March 1965, Dr. Campbell wrote an acquaintance, Kenneth A. Stonex of General Motors, asking him to provide crash data on a question that literally was one of life and death. Mr. Stonex, General Motors' leading automotive safety engineer, wrote back that "as a longstanding policy, engineering details of General Motors developments have a degree of confidence equivalent to that between you and your patients." Then he added, as if suddenly aware of the inverted engineering ethic he had voiced, "The best I can do is refer your request to people responsible for policy for their consideration." Dr. Campbell never heard further.

In recent years the data coming to Cornell has continued to show the pre-eminent danger of the steering assembly in collisions. Since the introduction of the recessed-hub steering concept by the industry in 1956-1957, the only changes in the steering wheel's configuration appear to have been drawn from the stylist's inspiration. (See Fig. 4) Industry engineers did claim minor improvements but could not reveal even experimentally in what way these changes were safer. Certainly the Cornell data showed no supporting evidence. The most generous comment about the so-called "safety steering wheel" which a Harvard collision investigator, Murray Burnstine, could make was: "In many cases, they function only well enough to allow the motorist to die in the hospital instead of in the road."


Some car models have two spokes on the steering wheel, others three, and while William Sherman of the Automobile Manufacturers Association, in a rare expression of his safety judgment, says that "the two spoke is per se safer than the three spoke wheel," there is no evaluation available regarding the respective designs. In addition, an alleged safety improvement frequently obscures an increased hazard -- in this case the horn ring. Mr. Burnstine's crash studies in Massachusetts led him to conclude that the horn ring is a definite injury-producing structure. "It is not capable of energy absorption," he reports, "and shatters upon impact. The resultant exposed sharp edges serve only to identify the driver." He says, "Drivers wishing to remain anonymous usually purchase the minimum-trim body style which features the less lethal horn button of thirty years ago."

In the last five years a new kind of evidence has substantiated Cornell's conclusions drawn from accident injury reports: evidence collected in the on-the-scene investigations of collisions (supported financially by the U.S. Public Health Service) by groups at Harvard Medical School and the University of Michigan Medical School. These investigative teams arranged for the police to notify them of fatal accidents in their area immediately, so that they could arrive promptly at the accident scene. The Michigan investigators, Dr. Paul Gikas and Dr. Donald Huelke, reported on their investigation of 104 accidents involving fatal injuries to 136 victims, in January 1965, before a Society of Automotive Engineers convention.

Twenty-live of the victims died from injuries sustained on the steering assembly. The report, confirming fully a finding by the Harvard team a few years earlier, concluded: "Invasion of the driver occupant area by the steering assembly is seen very often. The ramrod effect produced the majority of steering assembly deaths. Even if the driver had been restrained with a lap belt and upper torso restraint, so as not to be able to move forward and contact the steering assembly, he would have been killed anyway by the marked backward displacement of the steering column."

With such unanimous agreement over steering assembly hazards, both within and without the industry, it might have been expected that the automobile makers would have developed engineering solutions for effective energy-absorbing steering wheels and non-penetrating steering columns either separately or, even better, in combination. One reason they give for not doing so is the difficulty of designing a collapsible steering assembly that will suit both the ninety-pound woman and the two-hundred-pound man. This alleged difficulty, said to have been puzzling industry engineers for years, is never mentioned to technical audiences, which would know that solutions have been available for this difficulty over the better part of a generation.

Another excuse for inaction was given by Ford's Arjay Miller before the 1965 Senate hearings: "Common sense seems to indicate that rearward displacement of the steering column in a crash is a serious hazard to the driver. However, preliminary data suggest that there are fewer injuries when some rearward displacement occurs, because the steering wheel then serves as an additional restraining device. At present, we do not know how much rearward displacement is best."

Mr. Miller could scarcely have given a more succinct example of the industry's endless diversionary tactics when pressed for greater vehicle safety. It is not "common sense" but thousands of cases processed by Cornell and accidents investigated and documented by university teams and state troopers identify the steering column as a serious hazard. Mr. Miller neglected to specify what the "preliminary data" were, and when Senator Ribicoff gave him an opportunity to elaborate, Mr. Miller remained silent. Finally, Mr. Miller's statement that not enough is known about rearward displacement seems inconsistent with his proud exposition of Ford's pioneering and intensive collision research and development over the past fifteen years. "Preliminary data" in 1965 suggests that Ford's highly advertised collision tests at company proving grounds produced more advertising copy than data.

If Ford and the other car makers perpetuate the traditional steering wheel assembly, that assembly should be made more energy-absorptive so as to deflect under impact forces but not to allow direct body contact with the instrument panel or windshield by "giving" all the way. Mr. Miller's testimony suggested that he believed the problem to be beyond the capabilities of the world's second largest automobile manufacturer.

A significant complaint against the Ford president's position was made by Senator Robert Kennedy, who ended an exchange on steering assemblies with Mr. Miller and Ford's vice president for engineering, Herbert Misch, by saying, "Really the automobile industry has been derelict in this area. You come up here and say what we need is this kind of equipment and I ask you if you have the equipment, and you say, 'No, we do not.' You know, it does make one think that perhaps you could do better."

Miller answered simply, "Yes, sir."

Shortly afterward, Kennedy said, "It is difficult for me to understand why, after we have been talking about a collapsible steering column for ten years, knowing what the problem is, that the Ford Motor Company and the rest of the automotive industry cannot come up with the answer. If everybody wanted to come up with an answer to this problem, they could find the answer to it. Do you not agree?" Misch admitted, "Yes, sir, if the right talents are applied to it, we can get these answers."

Senator Kennedy hardly overstated it when he said, "I think that progress has been slow; it has been very, very slow, really. That is, I think, the problem."

The Instrument panel

On the Cornell list of leading causes of injury, the instrument panel stands first in frequency and second, behind the steering assembly, in seriousness of injury. This comes as no surprise to policemen and other accident investigators. The stylist who has been given great leeway to determine panel shape bas devised a great variety of designs that have managed to provide spectacular dangers. Hugh De Haven told a House of Representatives subcommittee in 1959, "It bas been my opinion for many years that we are putting into automobiles an instrument panel that has the Characteristics that are not too different, so far as the head and face are concerned, from a steel beam or an anvil." De Haven's point was amply illustrated by Dr. William Haddon of the New York Department of Health in an address before the Society of Automotive Engineers: "A friend of mine, a prominent physician who bas long served on one of the committees concerned with this area, saw not many months ago a case of a young child which lost one of its eyes because the vehicle in which it was riding decelerated unexpectedly, with the result that the child was thrown forward, as one knows happens with children riding in cars when cars, as is common, decelerate. The reason why this child lost its eye was that there was placed in the target area- -- n anticipated target area well known to all of us -- a knob. Now the eye, through evolution, or nature, or creation, as each of you will have it, has been very nicely recessed, so that in hitting Hat surfaces no damage, unless the impact is overwhelming, results. It has little chance, however, in landing on a protrusion. There was a protrusion, placed, by design, literally at the impact point at which children often hit."

What is wrong with instrument panels in a collision can be understood readily by considering what could be right with them. A reasonably safe instrument panel would not have sharp, unyielding edges, would have more and better application of padding materials or alternative absorptive surfaces, would recess knobs and controls or otherwise make them yield on impact, and would not have a protruding panel before the right front passenger area.

Beginning in 1956 the automobile makers, confronted with Cornell's statistical proof on instrument panel hazards, began to offer padding on an optional basis at extra cost. Some of this padding was no more than one-eighth of an inch thick. A Cornell study of padding effectiveness, based on accident data for model-year cars between 1956 and 1962., showed padding to be beneficial in reducing or preventing minor injuries, but making little difference in the class of accidents that resulted in fatal or serious injury. The study concluded that "More improvement will be necessary before the instrument panel will be changed from its prominent position [on the charts] associated with deaths and severe injury in automobile accidents."

Existing padding offers no protection from knobs, glove compartment doors, and sharp metal hoods projecting above various groups of instruments. Fatal injuries ranging from simple fracture of the pelvis to a crushed chest are found in the Cornell data to be the result of glove compartment doors opening on collision. Striking this compartment door even when it remains closed has resulted in serious injuries, but the protrusion of the open door is obviously a more serious hazard, and one remediable by any number of safer door or latch designs.

Even less engineering ingenuity would be required to eliminate dangerous protrusions above the instrument panel. Dr. Haddon recounts a case which he observed: "In a head-on off-center collision at relatively low speed, a practical nurse who had been driving in one of the cars was thrown diagonally across to the right and caught the front of her scalp on a small screw which was projecting perhaps only an eighth of an inch from the bracket which in that make and model holds on the sun visor. She left a piece of her scalp and her grey hair on it as it ripped her scalp almost from her hairline back to the back of her head. I think it is reasonable to say that someone placed that screw there by design not with injury production in mind, but that nevertheless its placement there undoubtedly in this case, as in probably many others, resulted in unnecessary injury."

In the other car involved in this accident, the woman riding in the right front seat was thrown diagonally across to the left behind the steering wheel and into the very sharply hooded projections above several of the instruments. She suffered serious injuries because of this impact and the localization of the forces produced by the projections. Dr. Haddon says, "'These injuries were undoubtedly much more severe than they needed to be, and they were produced in substantial part by inadequate attention to crash design."

Instrument panel design varies with manufacturers, and the variation, however influenced by annual stylistic considerations, has been found to be significant for safety. There are indications that the safety factor has been involved in some Chrysler and Studebaker designs. But at General Motors the stylist luxuriates. The Corvair instrument panel hood, for example, in the model-years 1960 to 1964, extends to the right front section solely for symmetry with the pattern in front of the driver. Dr. Horace Campbell says flatly, "'The General Motors instrument panels are the most dangerous in the world."

ACIR director Robert Wolf has offered a basic approach to instrument panel hazards. "I would like to suggest," he has said, "that the automobile designers re-examine this traditional form of configuration and ask, 'Is the instrument panel a truly functional component of the car, or is it just an accepted hangover from the good old days? What can be done to redesign it or remove it entirely in order to improve crashworthiness?"

The challenge laid down by Mr. Wolf would be a modest undertaking for a giant industry. Eliminating the center and right sections of the panel and shelf presents no engineering difficulty. The radio and glove compartment could be placed elsewhere conveniently. Mr. Wolf adds, "Were ready for a breakthrough and it would be a tragedy if the industry failed to recognize its opportunity."

But such a basic redesign is not appealing to company management, which sees little reason to eliminate a structure solely for safety purposes. Automobile industry engineers prefer to discuss the instrument panel problem on the assumption that the panel must keep its traditional configuration; on this assumption, they will gladly talk about safety -- and at needless, time-consuming length.

A recent industry position on instrument panel hazards and what to do about them provides a fine example of how sophisticated delaying and diversionary tactics can become. This position was made clear at the first specification development conference held by the General Services Administration in Washington On November 12th and 13th, 1964, to consider what safety standards the agency should establish for passenger vehicles purchased for the federal government.

GSA officials expressed their concern about several dangers of present instrument panel design. William Sherman of the Automobile Manufacturers Association raised the issue that it is necessary to determine how and where the vehicle occupant strikes the instrument panel. Ford's Robert Fredericks noted a general tendency for the body to strike downward on the top surface of the panel. Mr. Fredericks said that though the panel can be designed so that the occupant would not strike the top surface, style dictated that the "cluster hood" on the driver's side, which was necessary "to prevent reflections into the windshield from instruments and lighted controls," must be "carried in general across the car in the same general shape." Mr. Sherman broadened the dimensions of the problem. "The question here is the combination of surface structure under the surface and padding or whatever is on top of the surface and contours." In reply to an assertion by Colonel Stapp that enough is known now about the impact forces the human skull can safely absorb to give designers a basis for providing greater padding protection and diminished projections, Fredericks added to the industry's case for no action by explaining, "We know these sort of ball-park figures as to what will cause fracture, minimal concussion and things of that nature. But primarily when hitting flat surfaces. We do not know, for example, as a function of radius of curvature of a piece of sheet meta1 and padding combination what radii are tolerable and not tolerable. We know if it is a flat plate that naturally this is the best you can get."

While Fredericks and his industry colleagues were talking, a Federal Aviation Agency researcher in Oklahoma City was nearing the final phase of a project to determine the tolerances of the human face and skull of impact forces against a deforming surface. John Swearingen, a physiologist and chief of the protection and survival laboratory at the Civil Aeromedical Research Institute, concentrated on injuries to car occupants from dozens of different automobile instrument panel designs stretching back over a decade. With the rigor that has made him one of the most brilliant safety researchers in the aviation field, Swearingen studied over one hundred cases to correlate the injuries received with the forces necessary to duplicate the dents made in the particular dashboard panel. This was done in a variety of ways, but principally by the use of a small catapult with a speed capability of one hundred miles per hour. Dummies bearing instruments were shot down the track in aircraft seats with head and torso swinging forward freely to determine the force and time elements in deformation of the dashboard metal. By a meticulous process of comparing indentations with those on the panels struck by the victims, he was able to determine how much force produced how much head and facial injury. He further checked his data by using cadavers and measuring the results of forty-five head impacts against panels.

Swearingen's conclusions showed that under conditions easily within engineering accomplishment, the human head could take much greater impacts than previously thought possible. These conditions are two: proper padding to distribute the load over the facial area and the proper resilience in the metal underneath to dissipate the impact energy. With such a "transportation environment," as Swearingen terms it, "we should be able to eliminate hundreds of thousands of facial injuries." But with contemporary panel design, even forces generated by five-mile-an-hour impacts can be fatal, says Swearingen. With proper design, a person could hit his head on a panel at forty feet per second with no injuries at all, while presently people are dying from impacts at fifteen feet per second. Even a two-"g" impact on a sharp knob or metal projection such as the comer of a glove compartment door or the compartment latch could be fatal. Such pressure points can concentrate force into thousands of pounds per square inch.

Swearingen believes that the importance of the dashboard panel will increase as lap-type seat belts come into greater use. Passengers who would ordinarily have been hurled through the windshield would, when belted, be more likely to strike the panel. His tests indicate that the auto makers remain indifferent. Despite all the notice of panel hazard and despite explicit recognition of the problem by their safety engineers, the corporate decision-makers chose instrument panels for the 1965 models that were the most hazardous investigated by Swearingen. His instruments showed the highest "g" forces generated were those by impacts on several 1965 instrument panels.

Swearingen says the padding that has gone on autos in this decade has made very little difference in the safety the motorist gets. He concurs with Cornell's finding that the protection is primarily in the very low impacts; but he adds to it a more ominous finding: that "adding a padded lip to some panels has actually about doubled the hazard by using heavy reinforced channel iron to attach the pad." Other panels have a heavy brace beneath the metal which raises the "g" force to as much as one hundred. The so-called padded dash-provided only at extra cost-was offering, in some ways, pressure points far exceeding the unpadded dashboard designs.

The outcome of Swearingen's study was a specific list of design standards for the dashboard panel that will protect the knees and legs as well as the head:

1. No portion of the dashboard panel should be less than ten inches in radius of curvature. (A flat surface would be the best.)

2. The dashboard panel must be entirely covered with at least one-inch-thick, firm, slow-return padding.

3. The thickness of the metal in the dashboard panel should not exceed .030 inches.

4. There should be no metal bracing within three inches of the inside surface of the panel.

5. The glove compartment door along with its rigid frame should be eliminated.

6. All knobs, controls, etc., should be eliminated from the middle and right dashboard sections.

7. Heavy instruments such as the radio, speedometer and clock must be recessed at least three inches with lightweight yokes connecting them to the instrument panel.

Swearingen has systematic data on the maximum tolerable impact forces which the various portions of the face and head can absorb when striking a padded deformable surface. His is the first published study on the subject. Though later research may refine his recommendations, they answer a good many questions for industry engineers. The automobile makers have shown no reaction publicly to Swearingen's data, which they had told the General Services Administration were so badly needed, and which they had supposedly been working so long to obtain. Their position concerning the GSA deliberation over instrument panel standards remained the same after the Swearingen data were released in March, 1965, as it was at the November 1964 meeting. (See Fig. 5)

Swearingen's project -- including salaries, materials, and equipment -- cost an estimated $25,000. It was the first of its kind, and it was instituted and supported by a governmental aviation safety research facility -- not by the twenty-five- billion-dollar automobile industry.

The windshield

The windshield ranks third in frequency and fourth in severity as a cause of injuries in automobile accidents. The Cornell study shows that 11.3 per cent of all people injured in automobile accidents were hurt by windshield glass. Of this class of injuries, almost ninety per cent are injuries to the head, with neck injuries being rarer but usually more severe. Less severe windshield glass injuries often cause permanent facial disfigurement with psychological consequences that have not been coded in the data-processing machines.


In order to minimize injury, a windshield that is struck by a vehicle occupant must have two important qualities: it must not be so hard that the head snaps back with a concussion or fracture, nor must it yield so easily that the blow breaks it, with resultant hideous lacerations. All American automobiles use laminated glass (a plastic core with glass bonded to it) in contrast to tempered glass (solid glass, heat treated) employed on some European vehicles. The principal experimental research on windshield safety is being conducted at Wayne State University in Detroit and at the University of California at Los Angeles's Institute of Transportation and Traffic Engineering. The conflict over laminated versus tempered glass that rages between commercial groups here and in Europe has not yet been resolved by either of these projects, and a Cornell data analysis released in December 1964 does not indicate any significant differences in injuries from the two types of glass. Since all American cars use laminated glass, the bulk of the injury experience and consequently research attention bas been with that type. Dr. Allan Nahum of UCLA points out that the laminated windshield hinges open to let the head through but closes like a razor-sharp jaw on the driver's head and face when his own weight pulls him back inside the car when the vehicle bas come to a stop. It is this kind of injury that produces the severe and often fatal neck injuries. Evidence from dozens of crash tests using cadavers at Wayne State's department of engineering mechanics bas shown the need for increased resistance to penetration, while at the same time retaining or increasing the yielding characteristics of the glass that are associated with a reduction in concussions.

According to the Cornell study, in cases where the windshield was struck, the severity of the injuries increased sharply with the severity of the damage to the glass. When the glass remains intact, injuries are generally mild. Injuries are twice as severe when the glass is "web-cracked," and twice as severe again when the glass is "web-broken" -- using a rough index of progression.

Before the Senate traffic safety hearings in July 1965, General Motors took the occasion to announce that "an intensive research and development program" in this area, launched in 1962 with the cooperation of other automobile companies, had proved that a thicker layer of laminate between the glass would reduce the severity of head lacerations. (Actually, the major research and development work was done by the glass suppliers.) The Cornell data pointing to windshield hazards, alluded to by General Motors in the testimony as a motivating factor for developing safer glass, was first released in 1955. General Motors representatives told the Senators that "the result of this work is a new windshield glass which nearly doubles occupant-penetration protection." All companies introduced this windshield for their 1966 models.

There was one gap, however, in General Motors' testimony about safety and windshields; namely, that numerous Wayne State laboratory crash tests showed penetration to have occurred in the standard windshields at vehicle speeds down to approximately 12.5 miles per hour. The new windshields, according to this finding, would prevent penetration up to 24 mph. It is not likely that many motorists were aware that the "safety glass" they have been looking through for years could take no more than a 12.5-miles-per-hour impact without threatening the victim with a jagged glass collar. This is not the sort of finding about its automobiles that the industry reveals to the public; nor have car buyers a legally protected right to obtain such critical information.

There is one point on which all specialists concur. The best way to avoid windshield injury is to avoid striking the windshield. At the present time the only available means of passenger restraint is the seat belt. In its way the history of this device tells the engineering and political story of the second collision better than any other vehicle feature.

Passenger restraint

Early in his search for greater automobile safety, Hugh De Haven asked, "Can people be packaged for transport in a manner assuring a better degree of protection against injury and death than is provided by our present vehicles of transportation?" One of the cardinal principles in "packaging" the passenger is that he be firmly but comfortably anchored, so as not to be thrown against the inside of the vehicle or ejected through it.

Seat belts were adopted for airplanes in the early years of aviation just before World War I, when staying in his craft was one of the pilot's biggest challenges. Turbulent air currents or acrobatic maneuvers could easily throw the pilot from an open-cockpit plane; in one instance a pilot named Lieutenant Towers, later to be a Navy admiral, lost control of his airplane and was hurled from his seat. With luck and agility, he managed to grab hold of part of the plane as be plummeted downward, and he hung on until it crashed.

By the late twenties federal regulations required seat belts installed and worn on all civilian passenger aircraft. With advancing airplane design, it was recognized that such restraints protected occupants from injury in the event of a crash, a sudden stop on land, or a sudden drop in the air.

The transfer of safety knowledge and attitudes from airplanes to automobiles lagged greatly then, as it has ever since. In the thirties and early forties racing drivers rarely used seat belts; the man who did was considered to lack courage. But the work of De Haven at Cornell and the work of Colonel Stapp and his associates changed that attitude: racing associations began to require racing drivers to wear seat belts in the late forties and early fifties. A growing number of physicians, sickened at the sight of highway victims, began writing detailed descriptions for medical journals of injuries that were related to the lack of seat belts.

In 1954 and 1955 Cornell released data showing that ejection from the vehicle accounted for about twenty-live per cent of serious and fatal injuries. The risk of fatal injury was increased fivefold if the occupant was thrown from the car in car crashes. In addition, automobile crash testing done in 1951 by the Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory's collision researcher, Edward Dye (with the support of the Liberty Mutual Insurance Company), recorded the extraordinary path of motion the human body took even at low impact speeds. One set of slides showed a dummy the size and weight of a six-year-old child in the back seat of a vehicle that was crashed at twenty miles an hour. At .30 seconds, the dummy hit the back of the seat, and at .53 seconds it struck the windshield and again bounced back into the rear seat. The industry finally showed a reaction to these findings. Chrysler and Ford announced in the late summer of 1955 that they would make seat belts available to car buyers as an optional extra -- at extra cost. It was not until January 1964 that the auto-industry, prodded by legislation and overwhelming public pressure, accepted the proposition that seat belts should be standard equipment with all new cars.

General Motors played the central role in this delay. The company's chief spokesmen on the issue were engineering vice president Charles Chayne and vehicle safety engineer Howard Gandelot. Mr. Chayne publicly stated that he thought seat belts offered little promise, and that General Motors did not plan to provide them. Mr. Gandelot constructed his opposition around two themes: (1) "There is not sufficient factual information on the protective value of seat belts in automobiles to form any definite conclusions" and, (2) "There is little interest on the part of the motoring public in actual use of seat belts."

He was particularly resourceful in giving what he thought were valid illustrations. One of his favorites was the experience of Nash Motors which offered a "seat belt" with its optional reclining seat for the Statesman and Ambassador models. Nash provided about fifty thousand of these reclining seats and found customers -- as the story goes -- so little interested in this so-called seat belt that it was dropped before the end of the 1950-model run. The Nash experience has been cited in one context or another by every automobile manufacturer up to the present day as proof of how little public interest there is in seat belts. The present president of American Motors, Roy Abernethy, remarked in July 1965, "We were the first company -- in 1949 -- to attempt to make seat belts standard. We ran into so much apathy-and actual resistance-that we were forced to drop the feature."
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Re: Unsafe At Any Speed: The Designed-In Dangers of the Amer

Postby admin » Tue Oct 29, 2013 9:28 pm

PART 2 OF 2 (CH. 3 CONT'D.)

Some facts seem continually to be obscured in the industry's interpretation. Nash provided a belt to hold a reclining passenger in place against the shifting and stopping that would ordinarily be experienced in a moving car. Billboards showed a grandmother sleeping peacefully, held snugly by the belt. It was not constructed, offered or advertised as a belt for collision protection. What are now known as seat belts were not offered by American Motors until the mid-fifties. This reclining-seat "seat belt" was not emphasized in Nash's promotion of the reclining seat option; in fact the belt was completely hidden underneath the seat, and many customers did not even know it was there. There was nothing in the owner's manual about the belt. Nash dropped the feature because it considered it a needless expense. As Ralph Isbrandt, vice president of American Motors, told the Roberts' House subcommittee on Traffic Safety in a 1957 hearing on seat belts, "As we gained experience with the reclining seat, it appeared that this feature actually did not create an increased need for a restraining device."

Gandelot gave further "evidence" of "public apathy" in the small number of letters which General Motors had received from the public about seat belts. He recounted how the seat belts and shoulder harnesses he had tested restricted his ability to reach some of the vehicle controls, rumpled his suit, and gave him aches. He denounced those who were pushing for seat belts as people motivated by "the profit angle."

The arguments General Motors adduced in its opposition to seat belts are less important than the reason for such arguments. The reason is simple: the seat belt is a constant reminder to the motorist of the risk of accident. The seat belt is an emphatic reminder of the second collision, an item that alerts people to expect more safety in the cars they buy. General Motors has never viewed these as desirable expectations to elicit from its customers.

Gandelot and his superior at General Motors, Chayne, watched with skepticism Ford's advertising campaign promoting seat belts as an option for its 1956 models. The public's response to the campaign brought a demand for more seat belts than the company could provide at first. Between September 1955 and January 1956, many Ford purchasers who wanted seat belts could not get them and had to accept delivery of their cars without the belts. Robert McNamara, then vice president of the Ford division, reported in February 1957 that "more than 400,000 seat belts have been sold by Ford since we introduced them," and that no other optional feature "ever caught on so fast."

General Motors was not impressed. About this time, GM's president, Harlow Curtice, had a sharp exchange with Charles Shuman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, at a meeting of the President's Committee for Traffic Safety. Shuman wanted to know why the automobile industry as a whole was not offering seat belts as standard equipment. Curtice told him that the idea was impractical and inadvisable.

The Roberts hearings in 1957 brought together expert testimony about the desirability of seat belts as shown in experimental work and accident experience. On the basis of the hearings record, Roberts' special subcommittee on traffic safety concluded that "seat belts, properly manufactured and properly installed, are a valuable safety device, and careful consideration for their use should be given by the motoring public." Charles Chayne appeared at these hearings to repeat the circular argument about the lack of public acceptance or demand for seat belts as a reason for not promoting them.

Gandelot, who was continually called upon to express the General Motors view on the seat belt issue, once told an inquirer, "I delight in living my life each day, realizing that the information I give out is extremely factual." Such a sentiment cannot be faulted; the only difficulty was that GM's chief safety engineer never had any information to give out. While demanding more proof about the value of seat belts, he responded to requests for substantiating his skepticism with answers like this one, made in 1955: "While we certainly have a lot of engineering record films of barrier impact crashes, both normal and high speed, and quite a few simulated impact tests made with a new and very controllable apparatus which we designed and built some time ago, this is all under the classification of engineering data and not for public distribution," He chided his critics in the medical profession by contrasting their lack of knowledge about the seat belt issue with his own "factual view of things," which took into account "only those opinions which have been established on a basis of facts." Yet Gandelot never felt the need to justify the safety of existing vehicle design, however stringent were his standards for those who suggested improvements. In 1954, he offered this astonishing judgment to a physician who was pressing him on the seat belt matter: "Until we have substantially more information I find it difficult to believe that the seat belt can afford the driver any great amount of protection over and above that which is available to him through the medium of the safety-type steering wheel if he has his hands on the wheel and grips the rim sufficiently tight to take advantage of its energy absorption properties and also takes advantage of the shock absorbing action which can be achieved by correct positioning of the feet and legs." A few weeks later he wrote to the same physician, saying that there was very little data available about the effect of seat belts at higher deceleration rates and force values. "This makes me wonder," he wrote, "if, in the public interest, the industry should undertake a fact-finding program. Considering the quantity and type of instrumentation, the anthropomorphic dummies, vehicles and technical personnel required, it would be my guess that such a program would cost upwards of 100 thousand dollars." Gandelot appeared to be turning a long overdue duty of the industry into an act of charity.

General Motors was understandably concerned about the consequences of overt emphasis on safety features as a competitive practice in selling cars. Such an emphasis could only serve to focus public attention on the role of vehicle design in causing injuries during the second collision. Claims by one company that its cars are safer would quicken the interest of federal officials in asking, "How safe is 'safe'?" They might propose that automobiles meet federal safety standards just as trains, ships, and aircraft have been required to do for decades.

It seemed particularly Significant that less than a year after Ford began an unprecedented campaign advertising its "Life Guard Design" ("safety door locks," "safety steering wheels," "safety rear view mirror" as standard equipment, and "crash pads" for instrument panels and seat belts as options) that the Roberts committee opened on July 16, 1956, the first hearings on traffic safety in the history of the United States Congress.

Ford terminated its safety campaign in the spring of 1956 after an internal policy struggle won by those who agreed with the General Motors analysis of the probable unsettling consequences of a vehicle safety campaign. The 1956 Ford finished second to Chevrolet in sales, but its failure to be Dumber one had nothing to do with the Ford safety campaign. [2] Even so, it has since been cited to prove that •safety doesn't sell." Working through the Automobile Manufacturers Association and other industry-constituted committees, General Motors found its views accepted by other domestic automobile makers. Vehicle safety became an industry-wide policy matter rather than an individual company matter.

After 1956, industry seat belt policy entered a period where belts were offered as an extra-cost option but were not widely promoted. While saturation advertising and continual repetition of the sales message are deemed necessary to sell automobiles, seat belts were left to win customers without such communication. The manufacturers then seemed mystified because more car buyers did. not demand this option. Chevrolet general manager Edward Cole said in 1959, "One of the startling problems so far as crash injury is concerned is the utter refusal on the part of the American motorists to be strapped into a seat by a safety belt or a shoulder harness. We have made provision in our cars to attach seat belts properly and we have made seat belts and shoulder harnesses available to our dealers. The fact of the matter is that the sale of these safety features is practically nil, indicating a real disinterest on the part of the public in their own safety."

Before Mr. Cole wrote these words, he might have found that Chevrolets, along with other General Motors cars, presented great obstacles to "attaching seat belts properly." In 1961, C. M. Olsen of the American Society of Safety Engineers commented on the unique problems of installing seat belts on General Motors models of the late fifties: "All four-door GM cars are exceedingly difficult in which to make front seat installations. Removing the sharp wire clips deep down in the front seat construction is a strenuous task -- and somewhat like gynecological surgery in the dark -- but has to be done to insure that the belt is not abraded or cut where the user cannot see the damage being done." Mr. Cole had not explained how shoulder harnesses could be installed in the "hardtop" models featuring doors without a pillar to anchor the harness on, and Olsen offered an obvious insight: "I feel that people will otherwise [in cars without pillars] be reluctant to attempt such a difficult do-it-yourself job, or to slit new car upholstery to get the belts through, or pay the price of having it done properly so the belts will not be damaged in use."

Although they had a long record of success 1n creating a public demand for even the most superficial automotive features, the manufacturers lamented the absence of demand for seat belts while they made it difficult for such a demand ever to materialize. Paul Ackerman, engineering vice president of Chrysler Corporation, said to the Roberts subcommittee in a 1959 hearing, "In considering the question as to whether or not we should provide med and permanent attachments for safety belts, 1 intended to explain that many people have very definite objections to the installation of belts in their cars." John Moore, former director of the Cornell project, provided the answer. "No safety device can be used by the public unless it is first made available to the public."

The first step in the drive for availability was to make seat belts standard equipment on all automobiles. The initiative was taken by the New York State joint legislative committee on motor vehicles and traffic safety under the chairmanship of Senator Edward Speno. The committee decided in 1959 that seat belts must come as "standard factory-installed equipment, just as hydraulic brakes and sealed beam headlights." The following year the committee said, "It is the Committee's opinion that the auto manufacturers will not -- now or in the foreseeable future -- install seat belts as standard equipment in all cars unless forced to do so." The Speno committee then gave the automobile makers an opportunity to disprove its prediction. During the 1960 legislative sessions, automobile industry lobbyists defeated a bill requiring seat belts on all new cars sold in New York.

The following year, Senator Speno decided upon a strategy that would show the absurdity of the industry's position. He filed a bill to require new cars to have anchorage units for belts to facilitate and reduce the cost of installation. These anchorage units were merely threaded holes through the car floor, supported by steel plates which could be punched out during fabrication at no added cost to the car buyer. (At that time, a pair of seat belts cost between thirty and thirty-five dollars, plus about fifteen dollars for the mechanic's work in installing them.) The automobile manufacturers resisted. Speno and a group of legislators and administrators went to Detroit to confront company officials directly. The industry must have thought this was a routine Visit by a legislative committee; the Visitors got the routine tour of company plants in a special bus equipped with a loudspeaker and were given a show of crashing a few castoff vehicles with dummies. The usual points were made by the car makers: if New York passed one statute and other states passed conflicting ones, it would make it impossible for the manufacturers to comply; it is sometimes safer to be ejected from a vehicle than to remain inside; it would cost the consumer more; seat belts would hurt automobile sales. General Motors' Charles Chayne told Senator Speno that car safety is best decided by car makers. "A lot of people come here with ideas," he said. "Roberts came here. Ribicoff came here. They went away."

Speno was not impressed. At a dinner for the visiting committee in the Detroit Athletic Club, he told a group of industry vice presidents that the "comfortable delusion of safety the public gets in your cars is in sharp contrast to the broken bodies these cars cause. You've been showing me the ballpark, gentlemen, but you're not talking to me. I hope you will put in the anchorage units. It will cost you almost nothing. But whether you do or not, we're going to legislate it." He asked for a meeting at four P.M. the following day and indicated that he expected a formal reply. The next morning Mark Bauer of the Automobile Manufacturers Association informed Speno that the industry would provide anchorage units in all 1962 models, but they would like to restrict them to the front seat since such a small proportion of people killed are back seat riders. Speno reluctantly made the concession. It was agreed explicitly that following the afternoon meeting there would be a joint announcement. Bauer told Speno that the industry wanted no public release before the meeting. But early that afternoon, four of the automobile companies sent out press releases announcing that they would provide anchorage units in the coming model year. The industry had avoided the joint announcement and preserved the carefully nurtured fiction that all safety advances are made voluntarily.

Speno went back to Albany and sponsored legislation requiring anchorage units on cars to make sure that there would be no reversal by the automobile manufacturers in the future. The manufacturers opposed the bill, but it was passed. Other states followed New York's example. In 1963 New York, impressed by a Wisconsin law enacted in 1961, passed legislation requiring front. seat belts beginning with all 1965 model cars sold in New York. By this time, the automobile companies, prodded by legislation, were cooperating with the U.S. Public Health Service and voluntary agencies in promoting seat belts. Many government agencies and commercial fleets had installed belts. But the automobile makers were still opposed to standard installation.

The first break in this opposition came from a smaller manufacturer. Early in 1963, Sherwood Egbert, president of Studebaker, announced that his company would install front seat belts on all cars manufactured after February 15, 1963, and contributed this heretical statement: "It is our feeling -- a strong feeling -- that safety measures in motor cars should not come by petition from motorists but that automobile manufacturers should lead in safety equipment."

Under pressure from Speno to begin standard installation before the New York law's effective date of June 30, 1964, the automobile companies finally agreed. In August 1963, they announced that, effective January 1, 1964, they would make front seat belts standard on 1964 passenger cars with list prices adjusted to include the additional cost. Each company alluded to its longstanding interest in safety and seat belts and its gratification for the increasing public acceptance which made such an announcement possible.

Thus the industry rounded out a decade of strenuous opposition before its cars were equipped with a primitive passenger restraint device as standard equipment. The seat belt should have been introduced in the twenties and rendered obsolete by the early fifties, for it is only the first step toward a more rational passenger restraint system which modern technology could develop and perfect for mass production. Such a system ideally would not rely on the active participation of the passenger to take effect; it would be the superior passive safety design which would come into use only when needed, and without active participation of the occupant. It would eliminate the "acceleration overshoot" characteristic of conventional seat belts, which do not prevent the passenger from striking his head or his upper body or both on the corner post, instrument panel, windshield, or header strip. It would also eliminate the "bottoming effect" or the passenger's sliding under, and the backlash or rebound effects.

Protection like this could be achieved by a kind of inflatable air bag restraint which would be actuated to envelop a passenger before a crash. Such a system has been recently experimented with for airplane passenger protection. Both General Motors and Ford did work on a system like this about 1958 but dropped tile inquiry and now refuse even to communicate with outside scientists and engineers interested in this approach to injury prevention. There are a number of general energy-absorption systems that engineering ingenuity could devise to operate either inside or outside tile vehicle.

It has long been recognized that a combination lap belt and shoulder harness -- called the three-point belt -- is more effective than the simple lap belt. It prevents forward jack-knifing and provides lateral restraint against side impacts. Cornell analyzed data from California accident reports and found that simple lap seat belts were quite effective in controlling passenger ejection, reducing dangerous and fatal injury by thirty-five per cent or more. But later data on front seat-belted passengers, released in a 1963 Cornell report, found that in head-on collisions, when passengers stay in the car, there seems to be little difference in injury between those who wore seat belts and unbelted occupants. Cornell added that "the problem is not that the seat belt is a failure but that the front compartment -- the dash panel and steering assembly -- is not providing forward clearance for the head, knees, and torso, so that the body can jack-knife without interference."

The installation of the three-point belt is now being pressed by crash research specialists outside the industry as the second stage in passenger restraint development. This belt presents complications that the automobile makers would like to avoid. Cornell's Robert Wolf told the annual convention of the American Automobile Association in September 1964 what the difficulty is: "Installing a shoulder harness, however, in one's own car is an extremely discouraging project, much like that of trying to fit a homemade seat belt installation ten years ago. The problem is first to find a structurally sound anchor point for the shoulder strap and in a position where the strap doesn't slip off of the shoulder. To make a good anchor point usually requires a good mechanic with a good engineering sense. The chances of early large-scale adaptation to all types of American cars by the simple expedient of the Industry's providing standard shoulder strap anchor points, as was the case for seat belts, seems remote to me because of the difficulty of providing a structurally sound attachment point on hardtops and convertibles, which have no center post to the roof."

Hardtops and convertibles have been gaining rapidly in the percentage of total car sales, reaching almost fifty per cent in 1964. Even the recent sedan models with center posts present formidable difficulties In attaching the upper anchor of the harness and, when installed, give no assurance that they are strong enough to take the pull. Because the manufacturers are on the defensive they take the hard line. Once again, their rationale is based on unspecified tests of only one of the several kinds of possible shoulder harnesses. General Motors president James Roche delivered a statement to the Ribicoff Senate subcommittee in July 1965. He said, "At this time, our plans do not Include the Installation of anchorages for shoulder harnesses. We have con ducted extensive tests and studies of this device. Some of these tests have indicated that In a severe impact situation, shoulder harnesses can do more harm than good. While the harness does restrain the car occupant's forward motion, it also can deflect the impact force into a downward motion, forcing the occupant farther under the seat belt. This downward force can result in highly injurious pressures on the abdominal area. A shoulder harness also can exert dangerous pressure on the occupant's neck, particularly in the case of a relatively high-speed side impact."

It is obvious that poorly designed shoulder harnesses, inappropriately anchored, might result In some Injuries at the same time that others were prevented. But it is just as obvious that good design and Installation at proper anchorage points can avoid these small risks. Crash studies and accident analysis of the effect of these harnesses In England and Sweden, where they are in more widespread use, have shown results highly in their favor.

At the eighth Stapp Car Crash Conference, held In Detroit in October 1964, all the automobile companies had representatives present. None denied the superiority of shoulder harnesses over lap belts. Several, especially Chrysler's Roy Haeusler, actively advocated the use of harnesses. Dr. Paul Joliet, chief of the U.S. Public Health Service's division of accident prevention, has urged that shoulder harnesses be made standard equipment on new cars.

But the lack of an adequate center post, or any center post at all, on most models remains a problem. The search for making the seat belt more effective leads, as General Motors accurately foresaw years ago, to probes of other design inadequacies. In this case, the focus is on the seat Structure. Seats that tear away from their moorings and add unbearable "g" forces to a passenger already hurtling forward are one of the most common design failures recorded by crash investigators. The General Motors Engineering Journal May-June 1955 reported that for a GM seat to be considered satisfactory, it had to withstand a load of one thousand pounds. This means that two 150-pound persons sitting in the rear seats and striking the back of the front seat at only a 3-1/2 "g" force (or any combination thereof) would dislodge the seat from its moorings. In recent years, seats have been a little more firmly anchored, but the problem remains. Medical investigators reported a case in which a 195-pound football player, seated in the back seat of a car involved in an accident, was thrown against the back of the front seat, pushing it forward and crushing to death a front- seat passenger.

In March 1965, Product Engineering reported the development of an integrated seat by an automobile company supplier: "Current seat belt anchoring hooks the belt to bolts in the car floor; the new system anchors the seat, then attaches the belts to the seat. And that's the safety feature; positive seat anchoring should prevent the seat from being tom loose during a crash. The seat is designed to accommodate a retractable harness system and headrests (to prevent the head from snapping back on rear end collisions). It can be added to existing cars or incorporated as original equipment at little or no extra cost, according to the manufacturer, which presented prototypes to all the domestic car producers."

What is important in this example, as in other examples of automobile safety features, is not the particular design, but the performance function which is ignored by contemporary automobiles. UCLA's Derwyn Severy has pointedly criticized the industry at technical meetings for not designing a seat that will prevent the neck or spinal injury of the common rear- end collision. "It is the one most easily corrected by design and the one given least attention after perhaps the steering wheel and shaft," he said in 1964. Yet university crash injury researchers have not succeeded in getting industry specialists to discuss this problem in open forum on a high technical level. It is the most neglected aspect of passenger restraint.

Seat belts are now standard equipment and their installed cost to the car buyer is about one third of what they cost five years ago. Nearly thirty per cent of all automobiles on the road are equipped with seat belts, and the number of motorists using them is steadily increasing. The growth of habitual seat belt usage will accelerate now that the seat belt bas been removed from its place as the ugly duckling of the automobile world's vast array of optional equipment and gingerbread.

The passenger compartment

In a collision, an automobile passenger can be adequately restrained and still be injured or killed if another vehicle, a tree, an abutment, or any other striking object invades the passenger compartment. Nearly a third of all injury-producing accidents involve either roof impact caused by a car rolling over or penetration of the side wall of the vehicle cabin.

The two elements of the car's structure most directly involved in sum accidents are the chassis frame and the body frame. The purpose of the chassis frame is to give proper support for the body and chassis components. The body frame, which has been welded or joined with bolts to the chassis frame, is the other load-bearing structure in the car.

It is also a function of the car's body structure and frame to absorb collision energy and maintain what collision specialists call the "structural integrity of the outer shell whim surrounds the restrained passenger." But when it comes to design and manufacture for such performance in collisions, the automobile industry has either ignored the statistical evidence of the problem or is deliberately withholding knowledge about it. Despite the reports of Cornell's Automotive Crash Injury Research project and other crash injury research groups on the significant role of car frames and bodies in side-impact crashes, there is not a single discussion of the subject to be found in the technical literature produced by the industry's engineers and stylists. There is neither published evidence nor claims by the companies to any proving-ground tests of direct side-impact crashes involving the passenger compartment. Nor is there in the technical literature any attempt to establish load criteria, to evaluate existing frame types, or to study the relative adequacy of proposed alternatives. In this critical area of automotive engineering there is instead almost total confusion -- leaving the consumer helpless to make any meaningful distinctions about the relative safety of the various types of body structures and frames employed.
A case in point is the "X" or "cruciform" type chassis frame. This frame was introduced in '957, primarily to reduce the problem of restricted headroom and difficult entry into the "low-profile" automobiles that were becoming popular after the mid-fifties. The X frame construction does not have side rails along the passenger compartment, as did most previous conventional frame designs. From the time the cruciform type frame was introduced, it was widely used by General Motors on Chevrolet, Buick, and Cadillac. The Ford Motor Company continued to use frames with side rails, and it was evident that the two companies held strongly different opinions about the two designs.

In the fall of 1959, a photograph of a Chevrolet Impala that was broken in half after striking a tree broadside was widely circulated in newspapers throughout the country. The frame had severed at the intersection of the X. The report of the General Motors investigators who rushed to the scene attributed the severance of the frame to the semi-airborne position of the car as it struck the tree. This had apparently allowed the engine mass to act as the head of a sledge hammer. At the General Motors engineering center in Michigan the conclusion was that "automobiles are not designed to withstand sum tremendous lateral forces -this would be extremely uneconomical."

General Motors spokesmen continued to defend the cruciform type frame as offering substantial resistance to side impacts because of the rocker panel and floor pan underbracing members -- even though by 1965 all General Motors models except the Buick Riviera had abandoned the design in favor of the perimeter type. In 1960 the General Motors technical center offered proof that a unitized structure with side rails can also split into two pieces. A picture of a Ford Thunderbird, torn in half after slamming against a telephone pole and tree, was offered as evidence to critics of the X type frame.

This comparison enraged Ford engineers. Fletcher N. Platt, a highly talented research engineer at Ford, retorted that the Thunderbird case involved a telephone guy-wire that had "acted as a knife on the entire body structure." In contrast, he said, "the Chevrolet that broke in half failed at the center of the X frame after hitting a tree." Platt said, "The X frame has no advantages from the standpoint of passenger protection. It requires less material to support the four comers of the car, but it is obviously less rigid and provides little lateral [side] protection to the passenger compartment." He suggests consulting any "'unbiased' structural engineer regarding these two designs." Mr. Platt might not consider Mr. Harry Barr, vice president for engineering of General Motors, qualified for the designation 'unbiased,' but Mr. Barr did admit grudgingly, under questioning, that the Oldsmobile perimeter type frame had some advantages over the Chevrolet X type frame in side-impact crashes at speeds of about fifteen miles per hour. Further proof that some General Motors engineers agreed with Ford's Platt came in the form of an internal memorandum prepared by the Oldsmobile division in 1963 in whim the Oldsmobile "guard-beam" frame was described as offering an "extra margin of protection" over the X type frames of Chevrolet, Buick, and Cadillac.

The manufacturers may disagree about the relative effectiveness of different kinds of body frames, but they say little or nothing about the comparative safety of the conventional sedan and the so-called hard-top models.

In the hard-top models there is no center door pillar from the window sill upward and no upper half of the door frame. The same is true of convertible models, but at least the customer is on obvious notice when he buys a convertible, while the hard-top resembles the conventional sedan in the apparent security of the enclosure.

One danger in the hard-top model was cited by Robert Wolf of ACIR, who said, "It is quite common in a side impact of a four-door hardtop car for the center post to tear out at the floor attachment joint, where the post is loaded severely in bending. These posts are probably not designed to withstand a severe crash load -- they are there for other purposes."

Still another hazard is the dangerous consequence of a "rollover" in a hard-top model. Without the upper center post to support the roof structure, the hard-top offers less protection to its occupants than does the conventional sedan. In many accidents involving roll-overs, the hard-top has been described as having "crumpled like a Japanese lantern." One official of the Fisher Body Corporation said of General Motors bard-tops that they were "on the borderline." But who knows what the borderline is?

If the companies insist on pillarless construction, there are various engineering approaches that can strengthen the crash resistance of their cars. The manufacturers themselves have patented practical kinds of latch and reinforcing member arrangements which lock the side of the vehicle into an integral unity by the use of multiple latch locations. Nothing has been done to apply these patents to current automobile production.

Likewise, the provision of roll bars to protect against the impact of a roll-over is another possible improvement that is viewed negatively by the industry. Many physicians with an interest in automobile races have been impressed with the protection given drivers by roll bars or equivalent reinforcement when their vehicles go through spectacular accidents, sometimes flipping over and over for hundreds of feet. Dr. John States, president of the American Association for Automotive Medicine, has urged the automobile makers to incorporate roll bars in their designs. But such a safety feature would apparently inconvenience the designers of hard-tops and, even in sedans with upper center posts, would involve changes which are abhorrent to the cost analysts and stylists.

In the whole area of reinforced and strengthened body and chassis structures, the industry has steadfastly avoided testing, research, and change for safety. While gearing its public relations to stories of vehicles crashing at proving grounds, it continues to ignore the work of the men who have done the necessary studies. One such man, James J. Ryan, a recently retired professor of engineering at the University of Minnesota, has done extensive car collision experiments. Just one of his findings suggests the direction the car makers could follow. Mr. Ryan said recently, "From our tests we have determined means of strengthening the structure of the vehicle to prevent displacement of the walls, the door, and the posts and the penetration of the driver's compartment. The forces of impact could be reduced four times by the proper construction of any vehicle without increasing its cost or weight."


It has become evident that the Cornell data playa central role in any discussion of the second collision. After half a century of automobile usage, a staff of only nine people began, with federal support, the first statistical reporting system on how interior car designs injure and kill motorists. The time for analyzing the design of automobiles had come, and the crucial distinction between the causes of accidents and the causes of injury was shown with unmistakable clarity. The driver could no longer be the scapegoat for industry negligence in the design of their vehicles. From the day De Havens group began work in 1952, segments of the automobile industry suspected that things might never be the same again if they remained aloof from Cornell's probings.

Two events in 1955 moved the industry to act. The U. S. Public Health Service joined the Department of the Army in support of Cornell's Automotive Crash Injury Research (ACIR), thus assuring continuity and growth to the project. Early in the year ACIR released a comparative study of automobiles manufactured from 1940 to 1949 and those manufactured from 1950 to 1954 on the question of whether the newer group produced more or less injury than the older group in similar accidents. The study concluded that "on the most conservative basis, 'new' (1950-54) car designs have not demonstrated any improvements in the injury effects produced by accidents. When injury-producing accidents occur, occupants of 1950-54 ears are injured more often than occupants of 1940-49 cars. Further, there is a statistically significant increase in the frequency of fatality among the occupants of 'newer' cars. The contention that present day automobiles are 'safer' in injury-producing accidents is not borne out by the facts."

For its part, General Motors shrugged off the findings. Some Ford and Chrysler officials, however, were more sensitive to the possible consequences of this kind of information. An independent project, solidly financed, was acquiring the statistical capability to evaluate on a comparative basis the safety of automobiles based on their actual accident injury experience. The officials realized that it would be to the industry's advantage to establish their presence in ACIR's work. Before the end of 1955 Ford and Chrysler each announced a two-year grant to ACIR of $100,000 per year. In 1957 General Motors finally joined them in providing financial support through the Automobile Manufacturers Association. During the past several years, ACIR bas relied on annual grants of $175,000 from the Automobile Manufacturers Association and $300,000 from the U. S. Public Health Service.

From the standpoint of protecting its interests, the industry has never received so much for so little. The result has been an impressive perpetuation of the status quo in vehicle safety design, in spite of the potentially devastating impact of the collected data. Right from the beginning a close liaison was established between ACIR and the automobile industry. ACIR's director, Robert Wolf, said recently that interim studies and preliminary findings are often reviewed with the Automobile Manufacturers Association. The AMA is consistently asked for guidance and usually reviews drafts of reports before they are released to the public. Prior to a major announcement, such as the one made in November 1964, called "Automobile Crash Injury in Relation to Car Size," it has been common practice for ACIR to meet with industry representatives and go over the wording in the release.

Why Cornell finds it necessary to seek the advice and approval of the AMA concerning statistical analysis and reporting of data dealing with past accidents is not explained. Certainly ACIR has an adequate statistical staff and all the necessary data-processing equipment. The answer, in large part, lies in the AMA's desire to exercise a reviewing function which assures that ACIR does not name makes and models. To say, for instance, that the steering assembly is a major instrument of injury is a finding that can be tolerated by the automobile companies, but to have ACIR reports say that Make A's steering column is twice as likely to injure the driver as those in Make B, C, and D, would be damaging; it would tell consumers, insurance companies, and interested public agencies that some cars are not as safe as other cars.

The manufacturers have been almost entirely successful in making ACIR see matters their way. On only two occasions has Cornell named the brands of cars involved in ACIR reports. In 1964 ACIR's B. J. Campbell reported that an analysis of door latch effectiveness on very late model cars showed little difference between General Motors, Ford and Chrysler. Three years earlier, when a Cornell report found significant differences In door latch failure among the "Big Three," it deleted the car names and replaced them with Brand X designations. Another instance came in November of 1964. The Cornell report, called "The Safety Performance of 1962-1963 Automobile Door Latches and Comparison with Earlier Latch Designs," was based on data from 24,342 cars in which at least one occupant was injured during an accident. Among its more interesting conclusions was: "The doors of General Motors cars were tom off more frequently than those of Ford or Chrysler and the type of hinge damage appeared to be different, too: the General Motors hinge appeared to snap off cleanly with little or none of the deformation or twisting observed for other cars." ACIR was specific with its figures:


In the past two years there have been indications that ACIR is not entirely satisfied with the constraints placed upon it as a result of its "understanding" with the Automobile Manufacturers Association, but the chafing has not yet resulted in any blossoming of scientific independence.

However cautious ACIR has been in seeing that its internal workings and projected studies be kept from the public view, it made a mistake with the formally announced and suddenly suppressed Shoemaker and Narragon report. This was an analysis of steering column penetration scheduled for release in November 1963. ACIR director Robert Wolf gave a preview of the findings in an address he delivered that month at a Liberty Mutual Life Insurance Company conference on the automobile and public health. Wolf said, "This study, which examines accidents involving standard American cars, compacts and European cars, shows clearly that injury to drivers is strongly increased when column penetration occurs." He noted that in accidents of similar severity, the column on some makes of cars held up much less effectively than on others. Wolf then cited the report as "Narragon, Eugene A., and Shoemaker, Norris E., Steering Column Penetration in Automobile Accidents. Automotive Crash Injury Research, Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory, Inc., Report No. VJ-1823- 4, November 1963." Several months earlier in a Laboratory pamphlet entitled "Transportation Research," the same reference appeared. The month of November ended, and there was no report. There has still been no such report released. In ACIR's annual report for 1964, it was disclosed that the Shoemaker study was released to the AMA for the "purpose of securing technical guidance for use in a final report." The report also said, "The ACIR staff is still not satisfied that the best approach to the study has been formulated." Since the study pertained to what Robert Wolf called "important comparisons between car makes," caution indeed had been the order of the day.

The general explanation about statistical difficulties given by ACIR is not persuasive for two reasons. First, the ACIR seven-man statistical staff, headed by Dr. Jaakko Kihlberg, is acknowledged to have a high order of technical skill. Second, statistical difficulties of such seriousness would seem to have been discoverable well before the announcement that the report would be issued on a specific date.

As the Cornell data has accumulated to levels permitting more relined analysis of makes and models, private criticism by certain crash injury research specialists and observers of ACIR's tabu against naming manufacturers and models has mounted as well. Yet future plans for topics and studies to be undertaken by ACIR give no indication that analyses by manufacturer or make will be published.

Aversion to naming the manufacturer or make of car is not the only way that ACIR pays interest on the funds supplied by the Automobile Manufacturers Association. For almost a decade, ACIR has been providing each sponsoring automobile company with microfilm copies of accident photographs and police and medical reports of cases involving that company's products. For example, General Motors receives case reports relating to GM automobiles. These cases are provided only to the manufacturers. Furthermore, when an unusual occurrence of structural collapse or an injury relating to a particular make is observed, even if it is just one clinical investigation, notification is given to the producer of that automobile.

The exclusive funneling of specific case materials to the automobile makers by ACIR raises serious questions of public policy. ACIR's work is largely financed and supported by public agencies and funds. Over sixty per cent of its annual funds come from the U. S. Public Health Service, but the public contribution is much greater than indicated by that percentage. ACIR receives data for only a small fraction of its true cost since police and public health personnel freely contribute their time in preparing the specially designed report form that ACIR supplies them. This information should be considered a national data bank to be used for the benefit of the public generally.

In the present situation an injured person cannot obtain even the reports pertaining to the accident in which he was involved. Yet victims of marine or air disasters or their legal representatives have the explicit legal right to the detailed accident investigation data gathered by the Coast Guard or Civil Aeronautics Board. The Cornell data should be freely available to the public. In his final report on four years of investigation of fatal automobile accidents in the Boston area under a U. S. Public Health Service grant similar to that given Cornell, Alfred L. Moseley urged, "The findings should be public records so that justice and fair play in criminal and liability proceedings would be assured."

ACIR has rebuffed requests from public agencies to release to them even a small portion of the data which ACIR has given to the manufacturers. The New York State Joint Legislative Committee on Motor Vehicles and Traffic Safety (the Speno Committee) got in touch with Mr. Wolf in May 1963, taking note of an ACIR study released in 1961 that showed significant variations in door opening frequency among cars made by the "Big Three" manufacturers. The committee requested identification of the manufacturers and photographs of door latch and hinge failures in order to give it a basis on which to determine what design differences in the various door latches and hinges were associated with a higher frequency of door openings. The committee was in the middle of its pioneering investigation into vehicle safety and the need for safety design standards. ACIR turned down the committee's request, but a year and a half later decided it was wiser to publish the fact, with accompanying photographs, that General Motors had the worst door-opening record, followed in order by Ford and Chrysler.

On March 27, 1965, the Speno Committee wrote to Dr. Paul Joliet, chief of the Division of Accident Prevention in the U.S. Public Health Service, the organization that administers the federal grant to ACIR. The Speno Committee said that since the basic case data that ACIR supplies to the manufacturers is available to the Public Health Service, the committee would like to review these records in order to make its own analysis. The committee further pointed out that it considered the Cornell data to be publicly owned and therefore accessible to public agencies -- local, state, or federal.

Dr. Joliet called in the principals of the ACIR project to review the Public Health Service's policy concerning the issues raised by the Speno Committee. The result was a blanket endorsement of the status quo. Dr. Joliet stated flatly that ACIR was "free to determine with whom they wish to discuss the nature of any preliminary analyses they have performed, to whom they wish to make available any of their raw data material," and also to determine whether they wish to consult with their sponsors regarding publication of particular preliminary or final analyses. Further, the release of case data material to other investigators or other parties at interest is at the discretion of the principal investigator and the institution."

Not only has Dr. Joliet's division endorsed ACIR's policy of sharing its data only with the car manufacturers, but also it has denied itself the use of the data. Though the Division of Accident Prevention has the right to receive the same case material given to the manufacturers, it has deliberately chosen not to do so. When asked the reason for this policy, one employee of the division answered, "Who wants hot potatoes?"

Dr. Joliet and his associates seem to believe that their responsibility ends after they determine the value of the research proposal they are financing. In view of the Public Health Service's legal mandate, this is a remarkably limited role. The Division of Accident Prevention's key purpose is to plan and conduct "a nationwide accident prevention program aimed at encouraging and assisting state and local health and other agencies in the development, operation and improvement of local accident prevention programs." Dr. Joliet has told many Congressional committees that his division's interest is in preventing deaths and injuries. Presumably empirical data would help in this work.

To permit public funds to he mixed with industry money in such a project as ACIR and to give researchers full discretion to give data to manufacturers while denying it to all others is nothing short of an abdication of the public trust. By this action, the Division of Accident Prevention of the U. S. Public Health Service is sanctioning what amounts to a subsidy of the automobile industry, since the industry is the exclusive recipient of data that is paid for mainly through taxpayer contributions. This is a real bargain for the automobile manufacturers, whose contribution to ACIR amounts to the equivalent of only 2¢ for every car they sell.

There is no evidence that the industry has improved the safety of its vehicles as a result of the case reports it obtains from ACIR. In an article generally sympathetic to the automobile makers, Automotive News in May, 1965 commented, "Regrettably, the companies are making little use of these reports."

In addition to disseminating its case data exclusively to the automobile industry, ACIR appears to have an unreal vision of how its studies would find ultimate application to the design of safer vehicles. According to the Cornell scientists, their dreamed-of progress would proceed this way: 1) "Statistical studies discover a problem, define the problem area, and point toward a solution; 2) laboratory and engineering work result in a solution which is then incorporated into the vehicle; and 3) statistical studies evaluate effectiveness of the solution and indicate the need for further refinement."

The fallacy of this reasoning is illustrated by the history of just one item. So far, the door latch is the only vehicle feature that has gone through this sequence. First, Cornell found that the risk of serious injury or death was markedly greater when occupants were ejected than when they remained in the car. In the pre-1956 cars, ACIR data revealed that at least one door opened in nearly half of the injury-producing accidents. Then, in its 1956 models, the industry introduced so- called safety door latches, which involved a simple design change that was at least thirty years overdue. Finally, in 1961, Cornell released a study showing that door opening frequency in the 1956-1959 models, compared with the pre-1956 models, was reduced by about thirty per cent The next door latch improvements came in 1962 from Ford, in 1963 from General Motors, and in 1964 from Chrysler. In other words, for ten years motorists were used as guinea pigs while the car makers were awaiting statistics on how many of them were being thrown from cars during collisions before deciding to inch forward with the next improvement.

Statistical evidence is, after all, only one basis on which to decide the need for safer design. Clinical studies of a single, or a small number of cases can define a safety problem that demands a design change. Even before waiting for blood to be shed or a mangled vehicle to be investigated, as in the General Motors door hinge failure, advance design analysis and testing under collision conditions could detect a large majority of hazards before the final mass-production specifications are completed.

To move a manufacturer to action should not -- as it did -- require statistical confirmation by Cornell that the rear-view mirror is one of the ten top instruments of injury in automobile collisions. It is enough to know, as the Ford Motor Company knew in 1964, according to their consultant Dr. Donald Huelke, of twenty fatal cases which occurred when the victims struck the rear-view mirror in Ford Falcons. If the possibility of this particular hazard did not occur to the automobile designers before the vehicle was built, these fatal cases are proof of the need for redesigning the rear-view mirror.


ACIR has been subjected to some unfounded criticism. Certain foreign-car manufacturers, for example, intimated that the Cornell group made its "Big Car-Little Car" study -- which found, under similar accident conditions, a considerably higher incidence of serious injuries and deaths occurring in small-car accidents -- under pressure from American car manufacturers. In fact, the study was done on Cornell's initiative. But some fundamental criticisms of ACIR are justified. ACIR scientists have not displayed much commitment to giving a broader significance to their work. Like their colleagues at the Harvard School of Public Health, UCLA, and Wayne State University (all working with federal funds and industry assistance), they have been in possession of information that is relevant to the elimination of millions of casualties, and the expertise to utilize that information. Like their colleagues, they have shown only a slight appreciation that their special roles should require them to state forcefully in public forums the issues for discussion and resolution. As nuclear physicists and medical scientists learned years ago, public discussion is of great importance to their research undertakings. Ultimately, the successful implementation of research findings provides the public support for additional research. The absence of scientific statesmanship among these independent accident-injury researchers working under federal grants explains to a great degree why their funds have not increased noticeably for a decade. These scientists who do not make known to the public the importance of their work and the practical possibility of a vastly safer vehicle cannot, of course, enjoy public support.

The ACIR staff might well refer back to the testimony before the Roberts subcommittee in 1959 of Dr. T. P. Wright, vice president for research at Cornell University. As an engineer with wide experience in problems of transportation safety, Dr. Wright addressed himself to the question of whether engineered safety design of vehicles can result in dramatic reductions in the annual highway injury and fatality toll. His answer was, "Most decidedly, yes; with these provisos: "If a concerted effort is made toward fuller utilization of the information which scientific research has already provided; if appropriate support for present and future investigation and research can be assured; if present and future findings can be channelized to individuals and organizations willing and able to act on their implications by applying them at the practical level; if appropriate public educational measures are assured and maintained." Then, in words which should have weighed heavily on the minds of the university accident-injury researchers, Dr. Wright added, "Furthermore, as a matter of personal ethics, I should consider myself guilty of a crime against humanity if, for whatever reason, I were responsible for prolonging the ravages of a disease which is the unnecessary and shameful byproduct of the greatest transportation system the world has ever known.... Delay will be measured in inexorable terms of human life, suffering, and permanent disability."

John Moore, the director of ACIR between 1955 and 1960, did lend his assistance to the Roberts Committee in its attempt to establish a public record on vehicle safety problems. The present director, Robert Wolf, delivered two addresses in 1963 and 1964 when he recommended corrective measures that were available and effective for improving automobile crashworthiness. Small as these efforts have been, they are improvements on the timidity of other university scientists and engineers working in the area of vehicle safety. Perhaps with the accumulated record of industry intransigence and the opening up of diversified sources of financial support from public agencies (recent contracts from General Services Administration and the Department of Commerce fund for special projects are the first indications), ACIR will rise to its public responsibility.

ACIR should make public its general and specific findings on design hazards. It should explain the deeper issues of why such hazards persist year after year, and the engineering feasibility of producing much safer automobiles. The sooner ACIR performs these missions of scientific statesmanship, the sooner the scientific-engineering community and the major institutions which form public policy will be awakened to their long-neglected responsibilities to save lives.



1. There are many ways to design steering columns to prevent what engineers call their "rearward displacement relative to the firewall and instrument panel." The design alternatives are cheap, practical and long known to the manufacturers. (See Fig. 4)

2. That was not the only year that Ford failed to exceed Chevrolet in sales. Moreover, the 1956 Ford, in contrast to the Chevrolet and the Plymouth, was barely changed from the previous year. Ford's Robert McNamara released publicly in early 1957 detailed figures on safety option sales and market surveys showing the marked success of the safety features in attracting purchasers. But to the delight of the industry the saying that in 1956 "Ford sold safety and Chevy sold cars" caught hold and became a standard response to critics of the automobile companies. It is interesting to note that Ford officials never went out of their way to deny this erroneous impression unless they were specifically requested to do so.
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Re: Unsafe At Any Speed: The Designed-In Dangers of the Amer

Postby admin » Tue Oct 29, 2013 9:40 pm

Chapter 4: The Power to Pollute: The Smog That Wasn't There

In 1950 a prominent California biochemist made the discovery which was to establish as a definite fact the link between automobile exhausts and smog conditions in Los Angeles.

Dr. Arlie Haagen-Smit stated that hydrocarbon compounds produced by automobile exhaust react with oxides of nitrogen under sunlight to produce photochemical smog-the hazy eye-irritating blanket so familiar to residents of Los Angeles and other cities.

This discovery, coupled with extensive studies made by the Los Angeles Air Pollution Control District, showed that more than half of the Los Angeles air pollution problem is caused by automotive exhausts. The situation is not limited to Los Angeles; cars, buses, and trucks contribute half the air pollution in the United States. This pollution contains the most serious toxic contaminants which are associated with a significantly higher incidence of morbidity and mortality from emphysema, chronic bronchitis, lung cancer, and heart disease. In property damage due to air pollution, the United States Public Health Service estimates a loss of roughly sixty-five dollars per capita each year, or over eleven billion dollars altogether. Pollution corrodes metals, deteriorates rubber products, erodes concrete and building stone, soils a great variety of materials, and deposits dust and soot on highly sensitive machinery and instruments. The total quantity of pollutants belched forth by motor vehicles in this country last year included over fourteen million tons of hydrocarbons, seventy-five million tons of carbon monoxide, and four million tons of oxides of nitrogen.

It is significant that the major role the automobile plays in the creation of smog was discovered by someone outside the automobile industry. For years the automobile manufacturers felt no obligation either to engage in research themselves or to support outside inquiry into the nature and effect of automotive pollutants.

Paul Ackerman, then chairman of the engineering advisory committee of the Automobile Manufacturers Association (AMA), admitted before the California legislature in 1959 that the "unique characteristics of the California atmosphere came to our attention during the 1920's, when we noticed that tires and other rubber products cracked and deteriorated in the Los Angeles area." (Ozone, which results from the chemical interaction of automobile exhaust elements, is the chief attacker of tire and rubber products. The industry knew of the high concentration of ozone in Los Angeles.) During the early forties, official reports on the Los Angeles air pollution problem showed heightening concern over vehicle exhausts. Although the signs of the future pollution epidemic were unmistakable, the industry did no research to develop the preventive mechanisms that would forestall the increasing severity of photochemical smog. Even after Dr. Haagen-Smit's conclusive experiments were reported in 1950, the industry refused to admit that motor vehicles played any more than a minor role in producing photochemical smog.

Automotive exhaust gases have long been recognized as a direct hazard to driving safety. As a major contributor to smog, these emissions frequently have curtailed highway visibility to the point where freeways have been temporarily cleared of traffic in order to avoid chain accidents. Also, this hazard is great enough to cause air crashes. Civil Aeronautics Board investigations have attributed numerous air accidents every year to poor visibility due to smog.

The health hazard posed by various combustive byproducts is of a far more serious nature than the problem of reduced visibility. In 1962 Professor McFarland of Harvard summarized the studies on carbon monoxide as follows:

Carbon monoxide poisoning is an ever-present possibility in the operation of motor vehicles. The problem is becoming increasingly serious because of the increased density of smog and the concentration of idling vehicles in the metropolitan areas. Small amounts of carbon monoxide are absorbed rapidly by the blood stream, resulting in an oxygen deficiency that may at first be unnoticed by the individual. The initial reaction to carbon monoxide poisoning consists primarily in lowered attention, difficulty in concentration and retention, slight muscular incoordination, sleepiness, and mental and physical lethargy.

In other words, you drive as you breathe.

Carbon monoxide kills at a concentration of approximately 1000 parts per million (ppm). At the level of 100 ppm, it produces headaches, nausea, and dizziness. The California State Health Department has determined that 30 ppm is an "adverse" level, and that 30 ppm for eight hours, or 120 ppm for one hour is a "serious level of pollution." Bumper-to- bumper freeway traffic pours forth a stream of the deadly gas for motorists to absorb. In the Los Angeles area, Dr. Haagen-Smit has recorded highway concentrations of carbon monoxide of up to 120 ppm; in Detroit, levels have exceeded 100 ppm. Many urban roads routinely experience such concentrations in heavy traffic.

In July 1965, spokesmen for the automobile companies told Senator Abraham Ribicoff's subcommittee on executive reorganization, which was investigating the traffic safety situation, that the control of vehicle emissions has no relation to driver safety. This is the industry's official position taken before the General Services Administration and state legislatures.

Carbon monoxide has the additional effect of reducing body tolerance to alcohol and certain drugs. Through replacing normal carbon dioxide in the blood, carbon monoxide sets up a situation where either drugs or alcohol, both taken within moderate or prescribed limits, becomes dangerous to the driver.

A 1959 Department of Commerce research report warned about the consequences of rapid deterioration of poor exhaust systems: "This type of failure, which can be prevented or delayed by use of better materials in the muffler and other parts of the exhaust system, brings carbon monoxide concentrations in the vicinity of the passenger compartment, and under certain conditions can cause car occupants to become drowsy, experience eye irritation, headaches and nausea, or actually endanger their lives, depending on the length of exposure and, of course, the concentrations."

When Senator Ribicoff asked why the automobile industry did not adopt nationally the California requirements (mandatory exhaust controls on all new vehicles sold in that state beginning with the 1966 models), he was told that automobile exhaust conditions did not warrant such action. The senator displayed unusual irritation at such replies during the hearings and, judging by the evidence he had in hand, his displeasure was well founded. Two years ago, Professor John Middleton of the University of California reported that "manifestations of photochemical air pollution, including oxidant index, plant damage, and rubber cracking, have now been seen and reported in urban and adjacent rural areas in twenty-seven states and the District of Columbia." The 1963 Yearbook of Agriculture, an authoritative and cautious source, stated: "Los Angeles no longer has, if it ever had, a monopoly on photochemical smog. The characteristic symptoms in plants have been found in almost every metropolitan area in the country.... the entire coastal area roughly from Washington, D.C., to Boston has come to rival southern California." Since 1950 independent researchers have been accumulating increasingly specific evidence that the tens of millions of little pollution factories on wheels do serious harm to the health and safety of the American people. In May 1965 Senator Muskie submitted a report compiled from expert testimony which his special subcommittee on air and water pollution heard during sessions conducted throughout the nation. The report stated: "In all of the hearings held since the adoption of the Clean Air Act of 1963, automotive exhaust from some 84 million automobiles, trucks and buses was cited as responsible for about 50 per cent of the national air pollution problem. Photochemical air pollution, or smog, is a problem of growing national importance and is attributable largely to the operation of the motor vehicle. This type of air pollution is appearing with increasing frequency and severity in metropolitan areas throughout the nation."

In a study released in June 1965, based on data from the federal government's continuous air monitoring program, U. S. Public Health Service scientists reported: "The data show that although Los Angeles experiences photochemical smog incidents more frequently, smog incidents in other cities are severe and are not infrequent." [1]

The automobile industry seems to have ignored the increasing problem of air pollution because of its own economic interests. From their own point of view, automobile makers see no reason to spend money to produce a device which allows them neither to increase profits nor to effect any economies.

Or to put it another way, the manufacturers have two basic criteria for judging a potential design change: 1) will it reduce costs? and 2) will it increase sales? The automobile makers seem to have decided that cleaning up exhausts will do neither.

The struggle between air pollution authorities and officials of the major automobile companies bas been long and frustrating. Los Angeles, which has done the pioneering work in the field of air pollution, bas spent fifteen years trying to get some action out of Detroit The industry's. almost purely defensive attitude is illustrated by an exchange of correspondence between Los Angeles County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn and the Ford Motor Company in February and March of 1953. Mr. Hahn wrote to Henry Ford II to express his concern about vehicle exhausts and to ask a number of specific questions. His letter was referred to Dan J. Chabek of the engineering staff for reply. Mr. Chabek wrote: "Dear Mr. Hahn: The Ford engineering staff, although mindful that automobile engines produce exhaust gases, feels these waste vapors are dissipated in the atmosphere quickly and do not present an air pollution problem. Therefore, our research department has not conducted any experimental work aimed at totally eliminating these gases.

"The fine automotive power plants which modem-day engineers design do not 'smoke.' Only aging engines subjected to improper care and maintenance burn oil.

"To date, the need for a device which will more effectively reduce exhaust vapors has not been established."

Mr. Chabek's letter revealed a basic operating principle of the automobile industry whenever it is confronted with pressures to curb the harmful effects of its products: "We feel; therefore, we do not research."

When Mr. Hahn went to Detroit to get some direct answers about adoption of exhaust controls, a senior official of one of the companies asked: "Well, Mr. Hahn, will that device sell more cars?" "No," said Mr. Hahn. "Will it look prettier, will it give us more horsepower? If not, we are not interested."

The industry saw no need to defend its continued production of polluting vehicles. On the contrary, it was up to the Los Angeles authorities to establish the data and shoulder the burden of proof, with the industry being judge and jury over whether the burden was met. It took the expenditure of several millions of dollars of public funds for the Los Angeles Air Pollution Control District (APCD) to conduct the research into automobile operation, local driving conditions and the composition of gasolines in order to determine the specific contributions of various pollutants to smog. By 1953 the APCD had established beyond any doubt that motor vehicles were the largest source of air pollutants and the chief source of hydrocarbons in the area. The automobile companies were unable to fault this finding. In response to the increasing public pressure the industry decided to close ranks. In December 1953 through their trade body, the Automobile Manufacturers Association, the companies formed the Vehicle Combustion Products Committee to initiate a cooperative program of research and development on an industry-wide basis. To facilitate the exchange of information so that no company would have any advantage over another, member companies entered into a royalty-free, cross-licensing agreement for devices or systems primarily designed to reduce emissions.

Both company executives and spokesmen for the Automobile Manufacturers Association made it clear from the outset that reduction of vehicle emissions was a highly complex technical undertaking. General Motors' Charles Chayne compared it to the problems involved in trying to find a cure for cancer. (Subsequent data strongly pointed to vehicle contaminants as a cause of cancer.) First, the automobile makers said they wanted to determine the composition of exhaust gases, a phase of the automobile's operation about which they claimed almost total ignorance. For one thing, they said they lacked the proper instruments with which to begin a research program on auto emissions. For another, they said that before they could begin they would need to compile a profile of the driving habits of the average motorist. To achieve these objectives, the automobile industry as a whole spent a million dollars a year, a figure which seems rather inadequate to the magnitude of the problem.

In January 1954 automobile representatives assured the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors that controls would be developed and ready for the 1958 models. As late as April 1956, high company executives declared that the 1958 model- year was still the target date. Company engineers began cranking out technical papers on the automotive emissions problem which were read before engineering meetings to show the pace of progress. But the 1958 models went into the showrooms without any controls.

By November 1957 the Los Angeles County air pollution control officer, S. Smith Griswold, publicly declared before the National Advisory Committee to the United States Surgeon General his despair about community air pollution. "We have done everything that it is within our power to do," he said. "We have cleaned up industries that other sections of the country have deemed impossible to control-steel mills, petroleum refineries, smelters, railroads, shipping. We have helped our electrical utilities obtain more gas for their steam plants. We have issued 5000 citations in the last three years, and levied half a million dollars In fines. Despite this, we still have smog.

"There remains one source of air pollution beyond our power to control. Every day in Los Angeles County, 2,700,000 automobiles are burning 5% million gallons of gasoline, and fouling our air with 8,000 tons of contaminants. These emissions include: 6,400 tons of carbon monoxide, 300 tons of oxides of nitrogen and 1,050 tons of hydrocarbons."

Mr. Griswold went on to describe the financial burdens entailed by the massive abatement program in just one urban area. Local industry spent fifty million dollars for control equipment and five million dollars a year to operate it. Back- ard incinerators worth forty-eight million dollars were junked. Yet the automobile industry, which has seen a single manufacturer spend about $250 million to develop a new car (as Ford did for the Edsel), was devoting only a million dollars a year to its cooperative vehicle emissions control program.

Around the same lime, Harvey Williams, managing director of the Automobile Manufacturers Association, revealed in another way how the industry saw its responsibility. Before the first National Conference on Air Pollution In Washington, D.C., he made this remarkable introduction: "What I want to discuss today is something which, so far as I know, no other Industry has ever been called upon to do: namely, to concern itself with how the consumer uses or misuses the product long after its sale to the public."

He followed with an account of the conditions that prevailed before the time of the automobile: "It must have been impossible for our elders to imagine life in this land without the polluted air in which they lived-before people were liberated from the congested cities by the motor vehicle. There were reeking livery stables in every neighborhood. Cowbarns were the customary auxiliaries to dairies. There were malodorous privies in every backyard. The dirt in the unpaved streets was, therefore, a fetid compound of filth, laid down by successive generations of people and animals. There were few screens on doors or windows to bar marauding disease-bearing insects."

Mr. Williams reminded his audience that the unsavoriness he described had vanished with the advent of the motor vehicle. He stated further that the industry was making a serious study of the question of air pollution: a "million dollars a year spent on one problem by one industry is still a substantial outlay."

Many delegates to the conference were aghast. But politeness prevailed. In summing up the proceedings at the end of the conference, NBC's Martin Agronsky told the assemblage what he thought of the one million dollars a year: "Well, with all due respect to a twenty billion dollar industry, I am not impressed."


Los Angeles County authorities questioned the real difficulty of solving the emission control problem if the companies were content to devote such a pittance to its solution. They were given comfort that the breakthrough was imminent. An Automobile Manufacturers Association spokesman in late 1958 said emphatically, "The program now is at a point where the technical feasibility of exhaust control has been established. Prototype devices are being tested and are near the point where they will pass from research to product development."

Then in 1959 the automobile industry announced a discovery: auto crankcase emissions were found to be a major source of hydrocarbons. At the end of the year, all the U.S. auto makers announced together that 1961 model automobiles sold in California would be equipped with crankcase ventilation systems (popularly called blowby devices) to eliminate most of the hydrocarbons from that source. Their action, according to the press releases, was voluntary: a California law requiring such installation by that date was, they said, simply coincidental.

The Federal Government, conscious of the spread of air pollution, began to take action. In December 1961, Abraham Ribicoff, then Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, warned that if blow-by devices were not placed on all cars by the industry, he would recommend that mandatory legislation be passed by Congress. Promptly thereafter, the industry announced voluntarily that all 1963 model automobiles would be so equipped. The secretary relented. The 1963 model- year came and all new domestic automobiles had blow-by devices on them. But a report on automotive air pollution submitted to Congress in January 1965 by the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, confirmed the tenuous foundation on which the "voluntary approach," so popular in some government circles can rest: "During the 1964 model- year one of the domestic manufacturers ceased the routine Installation of crankcase emission control devices on its various product lines except on vehicles for sale in the regulated states of California and New York. Model-year 1965 automobiles from the same manufacturer are also not routinely equipped with crankcase emission controls."

The report continued a government tradition of not referring to the culpable car manufacturer by name, even at the risk of tainting all of them as suspect. In fact, the company involved was Ford. In a letter replying to Assistant Secretary James Quigley's inquiry about the elimination of the blow-by device, H. Misch, Ford's engineering vice president, said that the action was taken because of operational and maintenance difficulties. He promised that Ford would resume use of the device on cars produced after March 1, 1965. Mr. Misch did not explain why Ford neglected to inform their customers or the federal government of the elimination, although the government had withheld action on the basis of company compliance.

Previously, the Los Angeles Air Pollution Control District had gone outside the automobile industry for other solutions to the pollution exhaust problem. It bad encouraged companies in the chemical and automobile accessory industries to develop catalytic or other types of acceptable exhaust controls. The APCD had also established an automotive combustion laboratory and constructed environmental test chambers to evaluate proposals submitted to it as well as to research independently various engineering alternatives for control of auto exhaust and test them on the highway. The idea behind these initiatives was to encourage other sources of scientific data and engineering development which would help break the near-monopoly of information and technical capability held by the automobile industry.

By 1963 several groups of companies with no previous experience in the field came up with workable exhaust control devices. There were still some maintenance problems to be ironed out but the engineering performance in a short period of development time was impressive. These companies were aiming at the California market because of a state law providing for compulsory exhaust controls on all new cars one year after the State Motor Vehicle Pollution Control Board approved two or more devices. To win approval, the system or device bad to keep hydrocarbons below 275 parts per million and carbon monoxide to 1.5 per cent of exhaust fumes coming from the tail pipe. Realizing that board approval of two or more devices was imminent, the automobile industry tried to head it off. On March 10, 1964, the automobile companies announced with one voice that they expected to be able to meet the California standard in time for the 1967 models. What the automobile companies could not tolerate was to be compelled to attach some other firm's device to their engine complex. They claimed there would be all kinds of technical difficulties, but the blow to their pride seemed to be the most weighty factor.

As late as June 1964 an industry smog specialist, George A. Delaney, speaking for the Automobile Manufacturers Association, described the industry's March tenth announcement as one "based on a careful and realistic determination that this time schedule is needed to engineer and test specific applications of control measures for each engine- transmission combination ..." On June 17, 1964. the California Board approved the four exhaust control devices submitted by four groups of companies: Norris-Thermidor Corp. and W. R. Grace & Co., American Machine and Foundry and Chromalloy Corp.; Arvin Industries and Universal Oil Products Co.; and American Cyanamid and Walker Manufacturing Co. According to the California law, the board's action meant the requiring of controls on 1966 model- ear gasoline-powered vehicles. It also moved the top management of the four domestic automobile companies. Their representatives rushed out to San Francisco In August and declared in unison that they had accelerated their program, and, in time for the 1966 models, emission control systems meeting California's standards would be produced by the car makers themselves. They had cut a year off their schedule; two months earlier that schedule had been described by them as •a careful and realistic determination." Competition and the law had finally moved a monolithic industry.

Competition within the industry could have commenced in 1962 when Chrysler developed a "Cleaner Air Package" involving modification of fuel mixture, timing and other engine combustion variables. The "package" was made available to the other car companies and to the Los Angeles APCD. Predictably, there was no reaction in public from the other companies, but the APCD found the Chrysler system the most encouraging development to come out of Detroit in a decade. Compared to an average emission of nearly nine hundred parts per million of hydrocarbons from Los Angeles County vehicles, the Chrysler cars equipped with the •package" operated at emission rates of less than three hundred parts of hydrocarbons per million parts of exhaust. The following year, the APCD established air pollution control specifications for the purchase of new motor vehicles by the Los Angeles County government The County proceeded to buy only Chrysler automobiles even though other automobile companies frequently bid lower. These other companies could not meet the pollution control specifications.

This break in the industry's united front, in light of the cooperative research program and cross-licensing agreement, must have enraged General Motors and Ford management. Charles Heinen -- Chrysler's leading automotive pollution expert and chief mover within his company for a little more sincerity and speed began to get the cool treatment from his industry colleagues after Chrysler captured the Los Angeles County business. His superiors promptly played down this competitive success. While automobile makers will advertise a victory in one phase of an economy run or auto endurance race, Chrysler banned any advertising of the fact that only its vehicles could meet the emissions standards of Los Angeles County.

Under increasing pressure from California authorities, Federal agencies, and outside producers of exhaust control devices, the industry closed ranks with impressive determination, presenting a more closely united front than they had before Chrysler's unilateral initiative. When Senator Muskie's Senate subcommittee began questioning the automobile manufacturers in 1964, the manufacturers made their presentation as a chorus. Not a single disagreement, however small, pervaded the many pages of testimony given in the June 1964 and April 1965 hearings. Even the bibliography of articles reporting industry research on automotive emissions that was supplied the Senate subcommittee was entitled "From the U. S. Automobile Industry Laboratories." No company affiliations were given the various authors, although their affiliations had appeared on the original technical papers.

Such unanimity and conformity began right at the beginning of the industry cooperative research program in 1953. Only once in all these years had any company adhering to this arrangement and cross-licensing agreement made a single unilateral move in announcing or implementing a more effective emissions control system. While the Chrysler episode might be considered a temporary deviation, the initiative for it came from the aggressiveness of Los Angeles pollution control authorities.

Drawing on the work of Los Angeles air pollution specialists and on dozens of meetings with auto company representatives during his ten years as that city's chief pollution control officer, S. Smith Griswold said to the annual meeting of the Air Pollution Control Association in June 1964, "What has the industry accomplished during these ten years? Until recently, very little. In 1953, a pooling of efforts was announced. Through an agreement to cross-license, progress by one would be progress by all. How has this worked out? Apparently it has served to guarantee that no manufacturer would break ranks and bring into the field of air pollution control the same kind of competitive stimulus that spokesmen for the industry frequently pay homage to as the force that has made them what they are today.

"I term it a great delaying action, because that is what I believe the auto industry has been engaged in for a decade. Everything that the industry has disclosed it is able to do today to control auto exhaust was possible technically ten years ago. No new principle had to be developed, [2] no technological advance was needed, no scientific breakthrough was required. Crankcase emissions have been controlled by a method in use for at least half a century. Hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide are being controlled by relatively simple adjustments of those most basic engine components-the carburetor and ignition systems."

There is emphatic agreement with this estimate by both government and non-industry specialists in automotive pollution problems. But few of these specialists will express their concurrence outright as did Ulric Bray, a California chemist and air pollution authority. He told the American Institute of Chemists at a meeting in September 1964: "Except for the recent installation of crankcase devices and a tune-up accessory kit offered by Chrysler, almost everything Detroit has done with automobiles since World War II has been wrong from the standpoint of smog."


The basic issue of air pollution transcends the simple argument over how long a particular solution was really known and how difficult it is to apply in practice. It is that the industry left it to others to discover the harmful side-effects of the product it manufactures, refused to recognize the need for prompt and effective remedy, and moved in the direction of emissions control only under the compulsion of law and imminent competition. When pollution authorities implored the industry to do something, the automobile manufacturers' reaction, as a recent critical editorial in Chemical Week put it, "consisted of setting up a committee." Even with this industry-wide program, the most elemental canons of scientific- engineering research for an announced public welfare goal were violated. Contrary to its alleged purpose of facilitating a free flow of data and innovation, the industry established a ring of secrecy which no outside companies or public agencies could penetrate.

Members of the industry committee, speaking before serious legislative and administrative forums, behaved more like lobbyists and public relations men than the scientists and engineers that they purported to be. One can share the astonishment of Mr. Griswold who recently noted that "the greatest achievement in air pollution control proffered by General Motors to account for its years of effort is the construction of an environmental study chamber, in which they have been duplicating much of the work that has led to the conclusion that auto exhaust is the basic ingredient of photo- chemical smog."

Most people are not aware of the strength of the legal position of the auto industry. The burden of proof rests on the local, state, and federal officials and legislators concerned. Before these officials could move to act against the auto industry to compel them to do anything about Smog, they first had to put together a painstakingly researched case which proved beyond a doubt both the fact that automotive emissions cause the damages attributed to them and that auto manufacturers are in a position to do something about it The time that all this took gave the auto Industry a long breathing period during which the car makers could sit on its hands and tell the Investigative bodies, "Show me." Inaction carries no penalties.

A good example of this attitude is the industry's attitude toward efforts to curb the emission of oxides of nitrogen. This ingredient, which is as dangerous to the public as carbon monoxide or any of the hydrocarbon series, has been largely ignored, and the industry has refused to offer any cooperation with people interested in the problem.

There are neither standards nor laws to deal with what will become the more serious of the vehicle pollutants In coming years, as hydrocarbons come under control. In 1960, some preliminary but promising research into the control of oxides of nitrogen was announced by the Los Angeles Air Pollution Control District based on work done by the department of engineering at UCLA. A functioning device incorporating this principle was successfully tested on an automobile for a period of five months, showing a reduction of eighty to ninety per cent in oxides of nitrogen. There were some unresolved minor problems which the vastly greater resources and experience of an automobile producer could have overcome. But the reaction from Detroit eliminated the possibility of any objective interchange. In May 1964 the California State Department of Public Health held a hearing to consider the adoption of an air quality standard for oxides of nitrogen. General Motors and Ford air pollution engineers challenged the need for any control of this contaminant; once more, they demanded to be shown. No research was offered by these two companies as to the harmlessness of oxides of nitrogen, which would seem reasonable to expect as substantiation of their mulish stance. It is apparent from the Muskie subcommittee hearings and reports that research to develop controls for oxides of nitrogen will be up to the federal government to undertake.

As in the case of nitrogen oxides, the car makers claim inability to prevent hydrocarbon losses from the carburetor and fuel tank -- estimated at fifteen per cent of total hydrocarbon emission from motor vehicles. Again it will be up to federally financed research to suggest answers to the industry which will then proceed to modify them to suit its corporate Gestalt. The process could not be more calculated to consume the calendar.

But the representatives of the Automobile Manufacturers Association have more demanding tests which they still require of the body politic. They told Senator Muskie's subcommittee in the summer of 1964 that there is much more information to be obtained before action on vehicle exhausts is taken on a national basis. Once more they wished to be shown that a serious problem existed outside of Los Angeles before they chose to act. Their emphasis on being shown a substantial smog phenomenon -- a presence determined for several years beyond any reasonable doubt-implies a disregard for the fatal effects of even a little smog on those victims of chronic respiratory diseases whose hold on life is so fragile. In mid-1965 the Automobile Manufacturers Association began to highlight another approach-whether the costs of controlling automobile exhausts would be justified by the benefits. This strategy is calculated to keep computers whirring away indefinitely in every urban area which the Automobile Manufacturers Association insists is a separate and distinct one.

Increasingly, the industry points to the bill the consumer must pay for having a cleaner automobile. The auto makers see no anomaly in spending over a billion dollars a year for the annual changeover, consisting mainly of styling changes, without raising the price to the ear buyer, while demanding that a specific price increase will follow the incorporation of exhaust controls through engine modification. The annual changeover is seen as overall product improvement and absorbed by the company as expected annual investment, but exhaust controls for health and safety are not part of the annual changeover.

There is one obvious reason for this policy. By saying that control systems "will require substantial investment by every motorist in the nation," as Harry Williams of the Automobile Manufacturers Association put it recently, then the issue shifts from the industry's obligation to the arena of consumer acceptance.

The industry is still playing for time as far as a national policy on air pollution caused by automobiles is concerned. It forced a year's delay -- until the 1968 model-year -- in the federal legislation requiring the same kinds of exhaust controls as will be on the 1966 model cars sold in California. The original Muskie bill had provided for controls by the 1967 model-year.

The chief gambit for buying time is the insistence that more research is needed before action is taken. Back in 1958 at the National Conference on Air Pollution, the United States Surgeon General, Dr. Leroy E. Burney, met head-on the industry's incessant demand for absolute proof that smog is harmful to health. "When it comes to human health; Dr. Burney told the audience, "such absolute proof is often thousands of lives late in coming. To wait for it is to invite disaster." He pointed out that years before causative agents were identified, community leaders observed the association between epidemics and filth. "Cleaning up the city filth resulted in better health. Years later they found out why." Dr. Burney made these remarks seven years ago. Since then much more proof of the harm to health and safety from man- made contaminants of the air has been published. Yet the auto industry is unmoved. The question they should be required to answer is: "What is the purpose of automobile pollution?" This shifts the burden of proof to where it belongs.


The case of Los Angeles does offer some hope. There pollution control officials, with the strong support of local citizenry, have challenged, prodded, and negotiated with the automobile companies for fifteen years. The agony inflicted on the people of Los Angeles by automobile industry intransigence has had one redeeming result: it has given this country a history of how the car makers react to public efforts at curbing harmful effects of their products. In this history, there are lessons that should not be forgotten. Los Angeles officials have made a strong case that the absence of competition within the industry has been a major obstacle to adoption of exhaust control systems. (See Appendix B for the Resolution of the Board of Supervisors.) In 1965 the antitrust division of the U. S. Department of Justice began an investigation of the automobile industry's cooperative research program and cross-licensing agreement. Specifically, the division wants to determine whether there has been concerted action by the automobile companies, in violation of the antitrust laws, to restrain competition in the development and marketing of automobile exhaust control systems and devices. This probe of possible "product fixing" represents an important new phase of antitrust enforcement that explicitly recognizes safety as a value to be protected from collusive practices.



1. Los Angeles does have a particular combination of topography and sluggish air currents conducive to frequent smog formations. Other cities, however, have a greater density of automobiles per square mile than Los Angeles. In 1962 Los Angeles had 1,350 automobiles per square mile; the corresponding figures for other major cities were: Chicago, 1,541; Detroit, 1,580; New York City, 2,220; Philadelphia, 3,730; and Washington, D.C., 4,100.

2. Auto emissions specialists outside the industry were amused when they learned that for the 1966 models sold in California three auto companies had chosen a system which uses an air pump to inject air directly into the exhaust port. The principle is to mix the air with hot exhaust gases as they are discharged and oxidize unburned hydrocarbon and carbon monoxide into carbon dioxide and water vapor. This principle has been known for decades (one engineer pointed to U.S. Patent number 908,527, January 5, 1909), and translating it into engineering practice for contemporary automobile engines is no more difficult than applying suspension principles to actual bridge building.
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Re: Unsafe At Any Speed: The Designed-In Dangers of the Amer

Postby admin » Tue Oct 29, 2013 9:44 pm


Chapter 5: The Engineers

Nearly one-half of all the automobiles on the road today will eventually be involved in an injury-producing accident. In 1964, automobiles killed 47,700 people and injured over four million. At present rates, one of every two Americans will be injured or killed in an automobile accident. The number of deaths by automobile is twenty-five per cent greater than it was in 1961; the increase from 1951 to 1961 was only three per cent. In accidents involving all modes of transportation -- motor vehicles, trains, ships, and planes -- the motor vehicle accounts for over ninety-two per cent of the deaths, and ninety-eight per cent of the injuries. This mass trauma represents a breakdown in the relation between the highway transport system and the people who use and control it. From an engineering standpoint, when an accident injury occurs, it is a result of the failure of the technological components of the vehicle and the highway to adapt adequately to the driver's capacities and limitations. This failure is, above all, a challenge to professional engineering, which in its finest work has not hesitated to aim for total safety.

Automatic elevators are the safest transportation system known to man; anyone can use them with the assurance that accidents will be at an absolute minimum. In automobile manufacturing plants, engineers responsible for worker safety have "zero frequency" of accidents as their objective. In the aviation and space fields, the meticulous anticipation of possible breakdowns in man-machine interactions and the development of fail-safe mechanisms are the fundamental orientations. In the space field, waiting to learn from accident reports is an unthinkable procedure; in aviation it is a last resort.

In car manufacturing plants, the production engineers analyze machine design, operation, and work practices so they can anticipate and eliminate accident-injury risks to men working on the production of automobiles. The stated goal of General Motors of "no injury-producing accidents" is attained in a number of their plants each year. This plant safety has produced dividends in the form of greater quantity and consistency in production, less worker training, fewer breakdowns in the production process, and lower insurance costs.

But the dead and injured consumers of automobiles do not interfere with production and sales. They are outside the self- disciplining systems of plant safety, and when it comes to passenger safety the hard-headed empiricism of the production engineer does not apply. Rather, the so-called automotive safety engineer devotes himself to the defense of the automobile created by his colleagues in the styling and marketing departments.

For example, in 1954 a banker in New York who owned a Buick wrote to General Motors suggesting that the dashboards were dangerous in accident conditions. "The other day I had to step quickly on the brake to avoid hitting a little kitten, and in so doing, my son, eight, was thrown against the dash and broke off a front second tooth. If some padding can be applied it will help save faces and maybe lives. This is just a suggestion for safer motoring for all." The letter was given to Mr. Howard Gandelot for reply. As the company's vehicle safety engineer, Mr. Gandelot displayed sympathy with his correspondent's predicament. "Driving with young children in an automobile always presents some problems," he wrote. "As soon as the youngsters get large enough to be able to see out when standing up, that's what they want to do -- and I don't blame them. When this time arrived with both our boys I made it a practice to train them so that at the command 'Hands!' they would immediately place their hands on the instrument panel if standing in the front compartment, or on the back of the front seat if in the rear, to protect themselves against sudden stops. This took a little effort and on a couple of occasions I purposely pumped them a trifle when they didn't respond immediately to the command so that they learned quickly. Even now when either one of them is on the front seat, at the command of 'Hands!' they brace themselves. I frequently give these commands even when there is no occasion to do so, just so we all keep in practice."

Another attitude toward passenger safety was reflected in the observation in 1958 of Dr. Lawrence Hafstad, director of the General Motors research laboratories, who said, "More progress can be made in traffic safety by emphasizing the relation between the driver, the signaling system, and the road, than by undue emphasis on a crash-proof car, which could lead us to a progressive stalemate analogous to the classic conflict between projectile and armor plate."

Dr. Hafstad is a physicist, the former head of the Atomic Energy Commission's reactor development division. In making his political defense of corporate policy, Dr. Hafstad was not speaking as a scientist. Nor was Mr. Gandelot advising as a professional engineer. Both men were behaving as employees, and for them General Motors is more than an employer, it is a faith to which they have committed their occupational, if not their professional efforts. This sort of commitment has been most clearly reflected in the careers of the automotive safety engineers, who have been assigned the task of being the company spokesmen whenever the issue of safe vehicle design is raised at technical meetings or in public forums.

One of these men is Kenneth A. Stonex of General Motors, who has in recent years been the major spokesman and chief researcher for his company on the subject of safety. Mr. Stonex's approach has been obtuse and ingenious-and has consistently avoided confronting the problem of the unsafe vehicle. Although he Is a mathematician and engineer, Stonex has shown greater interest in history. Only with a perspective over the years, he believes, can people appreciate how fortunate they are in having their present-day automobiles. For his point of reference, Stonex borrowed a 1910 Oldsmobile Limited from the museum of the Oldsmobile division and prepared several technical papers comparing it with the 1955, 1960, and 1964 models.

The 1910 model was half a story high, which made getting into it something of a climb and getting out of it a hazard of some significance to elderly people. By contrast, he showed that current automobiles are about two and one-half feet lower and much more difficult to overturn. The 1910 Oldsmobile had a large, flat plate-glass windshield which shattered into sharp pieces when it broke. It had a wooden steering wheel with a cast-aluminum hub and spokes which would break into piercing stubs on light impact It bad acetylene headlamps with no provision for dimming or aiming except by bending the supports. Heavy brass rails for lap-robes were attached to the seat back and presented a collision hazard. The ear bad rear-wheel, external mechanical brakes with linings exposed to water, dust, and dirt. The rear door latch of the 1910 Oldsmobile moved forward to open the door, and the ear had a manual crank and elementary suspension system.

Stonex then compared these features with contemporary designs and concluded that "there has been a great deal of improvement in design over the fifty-four-year period." His basic conclusion cannot be denied, but he might have added that the demands of greatly increased speed and power requirements show that the relative increase in operational safety was far from as large as the absolute increase.

It is true that since the turn of the century the automobile companies have adopted better brakes, the electric self-starter, "safety glass," all steel bodies and roofs, independent front suspension, the automatic transmission, and directional signals, and have attached longer-lasting tires. Manufacturers are producing a car that is more reliable operationally than the vehicle which launched the motor age at the turn of the century. The same luminous comparison can, of course, be made between modern turnpikes and the muddy roads that existed before World War I, or between jet aircraft and a 1910 monoplane. The difference is that the builders of roads and planes do not make a practice of referring to their primitive predecessors as evidence of present progress. The question regularly begged by Stonex as he makes his rounds with his 1910 analogy is, "Why has General Motors not come up with the answers to make the modern car as safe as technology can make it?"

This line of inquiry is a probe against which Stonex has prepared an elaborate defense. The most concise expression of his theory appeared in an article he wrote for the General Motors Engineering Journal in 1963. The journal is aimed at the engineering faculty and students at technical institutes and universities. Stonex set these limits on engineering imagination: "Early post-war impact tests were performed at the [General Motors] Proving Ground by letting a remotely controlled test car coast down a steep grade and collide with a massive concrete barrier. In these tests the impact speeds were approximately 30 mph and deceleration rates on the undeformed part of a car frame were about 30 g. The catastrophic nature of these tests resulted in the belief that the threshold of serious and probably fatal injury is far below normal highway speeds. These tests led to the conclusion that it is impossible to provide secure protection during impacts of this nature by any amount of design modification, or by any restraining devices that the average driver would be willing to use."

In numbers of other technical articles, Stonex has repeated in one form or another this early post-war discovery as though it were an immutable law of nature. Vehicle design for crashworthiness, he told an automobile safety meeting in 1963, is effective protection against injury and death for no more than the "range of present suburban traffic speeds: Five seconds later in the same report he admitted that "little energy-absorption engineering has been done" by the industry; he did concede that this work was the industry's responsibility. Doggedly adhering to his position, Stonex ignored a technical paper presented at the Fifth Stapp Car Crash Conference by two General Motors engineers whose report said that "even in car-to-car collision impacts at 50 mph, cars can be designed so that the crash energy is absorbed and dissipated with little or no damage to, and reduced deceleration in the occupant compartments of the colliding cars."

Stonex's viewpoint about the limits of vehicle design safety puts him in the class of the engineer at the torn of the century who saw no further need for the patent office because every conceivable useful idea had already been patented. He also avoids the fact that the large majority of accidents that produce serious injuries and fatalities occur at impact speeds under forty miles per hour and that even within his arbitrary "low ceiling," a tremendous number of accidents could be prevented with the design of safer vehicle features, such• as braking and control systems and adequate tires.

Stonex displays such engineering eccentricity about car safety because of the realities he has learned as a thirty-year employee of General Motors. His adjustment has taken the form of convincing his superiors that, as the world's largest car manufacturer, it had nothing to lose and much to gain by devoting some attention to the problem of highway design. As Stonex told a friend, somewhat wistfully, "My interest in improved highway design will probably contribute more to highway safety than anything else I can do."

The case for General Motors taking an interest in highway design delighted the public relations office of the company. The research program was launched with the announcement that the safest highway system in the world was the sixty- five-mile private road system at the General Motors proving grounds in Milford, Michigan. This was supported with accident injury figures which, up to 1958, showed that the proving grounds roads were twenty-live limes safer than public highways.

At that point Stonex expanded his work. He reasoned that the impressive safety record was due primarily to the control of access, one-way traffic, and fewer roadside obstacles. This led him to propose the general elimination of roadside obstructions --stones, boulders, trees, culvert head-walls, sharp ditches and severe slopes, lamps and utility poles, bridge abutments, present types of guard rails, road signs, and other vehicles, whether they were parked or moving in opposing directions or at intersections. This clearing out, Stonex held, would come close to preventing collisions characterized as "ran-off-the-road" and "opposite-direction" types. These kinds of collisions cause, on the average, twelve thousand and six thousand fatalities respectively every year.

One-way highways with controlled access can eliminate opposing traffic collisions; clearing the roadside of obstacles can allow the driver to recover control of his vehicle or simply come to a stop on a gently sloping roadside, instead of smashing into a tree or other impediment. According to Stonex, these ideal road conditions are possible with the "application of well-known engineering technology."

A three-year program ending in 1962 was undertaken at the General Motors proving grounds to put Stonex's ideas into practice. Trees were uprooted, ditch bottoms rounded, slopes graded, dangerous guard-rail constructions replaced with designs made safe for collision. Stonex and his associates designed lamp poles, bridge parapets, and suspended traffic signs to meet the criteria of the no-obstacle highway. As a result of this work, the roadsides at the proving grounds are now clear of obstacles and are safely traversable for almost one hundred feet from the edge of the road pavement. "It would be pretty hard to commit suicide on proving ground roadsides," Stonex observes proudly.

When Stonex looks at the American highway system he is only partly satisfied with the 41,000-mile interstate system scheduled for completion by 1972. Although many of his suggestions were foreseen in 1956 when federal and state officials wrote the standards for this new highway system, Stonex describes the other three and a half million miles of American roads with fervid indignation: "r propose that our highway system design and operating practice is precisely that which we would have built if our objective had been to kill as many people as possible; we have made a game of it by some qualifications, such as 'Drive to the right,' 'Yield to the car on the right at an intersection,' 'Stop at stop signs,' 'Keep your car under control.' This is the real transportation problem that remains to be approached. What we must do is to operate the 90% Or more of our surface streets just as we do our freeways ... [converting] the surface highway and street network to freeway and Proving Ground road and roadside conditions."

Stonex has looked into the urban road problem even from the aerial perspective. On this subject he says, "The passenger who flies over any of our cities is struck by the tremendously large proportion of the surface area which is given over to roof tops; in many areas, the most conspicuous parts of the landscape below are the roof tops and the street surfaces. To conserve this valuable area, there does not seem to be any practical reason why long-term planning cannot arrange that new roads be built over the buildings in commercial districts and heavily congested residential districts so that the road pavement serves as the roof deck. In central business districts, we might even have to think of horizontal tunnels through the buildings to carry automotive traffic, just as we have vertical tunnels to carry elevator traffic."

This summary of General Motors' highway design work comprises the major published output of its crash research during the past ten years. Mr. Stonex blithely ignores that fact. In April 1963 the American Engineer, journal of the National Society of Professional Engineers, opened a critical analysis of the automobile with these words: "It would be hard to imagine anything on such a large scale that seems quite as badly engineered as the American automobile. It is, in fact, probably a classic example of what engineering should not be." Stonex wrote a long rebuttal to the editors in which he cited six technical papers to show the crash research going on at General Motors. Insofar as any technical contributions were concerned, every one of these papers dealt with highway safety design.

Concentrating on highway design rather than vehicle design serves two important purposes of General Motors management. First, it is extraordinarily cheap. The work keeps three or four engineers busy at the proving ground crashing a few cars against some guard rails and bridge parapets for the benefit of visiting delegations and provides the company with the material for endlessly repetitive papers at technical meetings. Second, there are no tooling costs implicit in highway design suggestions. Safer highways, obviously, are paid for by the public, not by General Motors.

Stonex's work is a useful contribution to the standards already employed in building the new interstate system. But raising the other ninety-nine per cent of the highway system to New York Thruway standards would amount to the largest public works project in history. Changing over a nation's three and a half million miles of highways in this way would take thirty to thirty-five years and would cost hundreds of billions of dollars.

But the cars on the road today -- their average age is six years -- can be changed over in a much shorter time and at an immeasurably lower cost. It hardly seems the most logical route to traffic safety for the largest producer of automobiles in the country to devote the bulk of its staff and resources in crash safety research to the area where it has no implementing power, rather than to put its talents to work on vehicle design, where it has full power and control.

The work of Stonex as chief "automotive safety engineer" for General Motors has been devoted almost exclusively to an ambitious project to remake the road system of America, a proposal that only diverts attention and concern away from the vehicles that must negotiate those roads.


Alex Haynes is the Ford Motor Company's executive engineer in charge of safety. In this capacity he has represented his company before the Roberts House subcommittee on traffic safety, and in 1964 and 1965 he was Ford's representative at the industry conferences with the General Services Administration, the agency charged with establishing safety standards for federally purchased passenger vehicles.

Haynes pursues company directives with a persistence that subdues any critical capacity he may have as a professional automotive safety engineer. As the Ford spokesman, Haynes has been the most intransigent participant in the discussions leading to the preparation of GSA standards. At formal conferences, in personal meetings with GSA officials, and in frantic last-minute telephone calls from Detroit, he waged a battle to narrow the number of safety features for GSA consideration and, later, to water down the proposed standards prior to their final revision in June 1965. His fervor surprised even his counterparts at Chrysler, General Motors, and American Motors. One of them explained Haynes's behavior as being the result of the pressure he was under from top management at Ford because of problems of certain Ford models in meeting the originally proposed standards.

Whatever the reason, Ford, represented by Haynes, was the only vehicle manufacturer which advised GSA not to consider any standards dealing with bumpers, rearward displacement of the steering column, and exhaust emission controls.

At the first meeting with GSA, in November 1964, Haynes was particularly adamant about bumpers. He did not see what was so essential about them "from a safety standpoint." Dr. Floyd Van Atta, of the Department of Labor, asked which of the two functions, decoration or energy-absorption, the current automobile bumper was intended to perform. Haynes seemed incapable of separating the two points, finally conceding only that "our business includes styling" as a "very necessary thing." It was left for Chrysler's Roy Haeusler to put an end to the fencing: "I think today's bumpers serve primarily as a parking guard.... The bumper is not playing a major role in the total job of absorbing collision energy when these collisions are of greater magnitude than simply rough parking."

Other manufacturers agreed to an innocuous bumper height standard, but Haynes fought until the end against even the principle of including the bumper under any safety standard. Haynes's engineering background must have taught him the great potential in safer bumpers for the significant energy absorption of impact forces. Prior to 1958, his engineering associates at Ford had worked on such safety bumpers. But this background obviously receded before Ford management's desire to defend the unfettered flexibility of company stylists. For their part, the stylists seem dedicated to the proposition that the function of the bumper is to look nice -- and to protect the bumper. (Ford's engineering skills labored under no such inhibitions in its work on energy-absorptive mechanisms for the aerospace field. Its aeronutronic division developed in 1962 and 1963 an "impact limiter" for the Ranger project, designed to modify the tremendous landing forces to levels that protect the most delicate instruments in the lunar-landing spacecraft.)

Another position which Haynes presented to GSA was the highly exaggerated claim that three to four years advance notice must be given to his company before it could adopt the standards in its vehicles. In May 1965 he told GSA that it was too late to change the location of the ignition key (for safety purposes) in the 1967 models. He favored talking about 1969 models when considering safety features for instrument panels.

It has long been routine practice for the automobile companies to talk about the "three year lead-time" needed for planning a particular model-year's automobile. This put off any legislation from going into effect before three years' time and discouraged a number of administrators and legislators from doing anything in the safety field.

Depending on the vehicle component or feature, "lead-time" is a relative concept that can be shortened or lengthened according to the importance attached to prompt change by company management New manufacturing operations are cutting down necessary "lead-time." The so-called "lead-time" for design, tooling, and manufacturing of an entirely new car, like the Corvair or the Mustang, was only two years.

V. D. Kaptur of General Motors has said, "An engineering breakthrough by one of the divisions, or the announcement of new competitive cars, may change the entire concept of a program already under way. As an example, the wedge-roof four-door hardtop on the '59 and '60 cars was a last-minute addition to the line, and tamed out to be one of our best sellers." Chevrolet's Godfrey Burrows described the development of a new frame for the 1955 Chevrolet -- no minor change -- as taking only fourteen months from preliminary design to mass production. In reply to a question in late 1964 about whether the 1967 models were "frozen," a Fisher Body engineer replied, "Nonsense; even the 196s's aren't frozen," and he cited a case where a grill was changed in the middle of the model year. In 1963, Ford stylist Joseph Oros said, "Today it takes two years to get a car out and into production. Technology will soon be cutting six to eight months off that time. It means we will be able to swing better with public whimsy and give cheaper, better products to people."

Alex Haynes was not unaware of these facts of automobile production. But his job was to disguise management reluctance as technological impossibility. In performing that task he served his superiors with unquestioning loyalty and single-mindedness.

Roy Haeusler, Chrysler's leading automotive safety engineer, is the most articulate spokesman on safety in the industry. At times his candor in public forums and safety meetings, though more analytical than blunt, has embarrassed his colleagues. After hearing Haeusler say publicly that there are many ways to make a vehicle safer without increasing costs if only the engineering is done right in the first place, one company engineer said, "There goes honest Roy again; he's the kind of person of whom you don't ask a question unless you can stand the answer."

Haeusler has labored since 1934 with singular ineffectiveness insofar as persuading Chrysler management to produce safer cars. Perhaps a high point in his career occurred at the Eighth Stapp Car Crash Conference. George Gibson, Chrysler's Director of Product Planning, delivered an address (prepared substantially by Haeusler) in which he told an audience composed of hardboiled, independent collision researchers, some of whom had risked personal danger in order to advance the frontiers of collision protection: "Safe car design is one way to keep a customer ... We hope that the public will use the safety features that we do have available. There is nothing that will accelerate progress in safety design more than public demand for the safety features and safety equipment which are available. Public acceptance of available safety features will come only if those in a position to exercise leadership do exercise it. We ourselves are taking the lead in urging all our executives to order available safety options on their own cars."

Haeusler thanked Gibson by saying, "You can be sure that no one appreciated those words more than I." He was not being polite. For Gibson's words represent Haeusler's adjustments to the constraints of corporate reality, while at the same time salvaging some achievements from a frustrating career in automotive safety. Like the good soldier who disagrees with his superior, Haeusler has maintained a strong loyalty to company policy, but has tried to bring about a change through normal channels.

He has chosen to emphasize the element of consumer demand, which, because it votes with dollars, is more likely to catch the ear of the company policy makers who then might be persuaded to "give them more of what they want."

Haeusler has even gone so far as to state that what is needed is "arousing of the public to a greater sense of personal responsibility for making decisions in favor of safety equipment in buying a car, rather than confining attention to wheel covers and whitewall tires. If the motorist were willing to give up these two frills alone, he would then have the money to pay for at least four and maybe six seat belts for his car." To suggest that consumers divert money from style to safety is revolutionary talk in Detroit, and Haeusler is not prone to say it often or publicly. The consequences of following through would be disagreeable to corporate management. For example, Haeusler has said that the consumer's welfare requires that the automobile companies inform them of the difference between function and appearance on an entirely objective basis. This would mean, for example, that Chrysler should inform consumers of the differences in side-impact and roll- over strength between the hard-top convertibles and conventional four-door sedans with upper center posts. But Chrysler does not inform the public of these differences, and neither do any of the other manufacturers.

The difficulty with Haeusler's approach is that it shifts the responsibility from the automobile maker -- where it belongs and can be most completely exercised -- to the consumer whose exercise of initiative can only be trivial and agonizingly slow. Fundamental automobile safety is not a matter of attachable devices and features offered as optional extra-cost equipment. It is a matter of building safer designs into the car.

The industry has not recognized the immorality of selling style as part of the basic cost of cars while requiring the buyer to pay extra for safety. For example, padded dashboard panels have been offered as optional equipment for ten years; the consumer purchase of this extra-cost option has been high, yet not until the GSA regulations were imminent did the industry decide to make such padding standard equipment on all 1966 models.

This is consistent with the industry's long practice of not introducing safety features as standard equipment unless there is compulsion or threat of legislation or regulation. Haeusler wants the compulsion of the marketplace instead of the compulsion of the law. The consumer, who is expected to buy more and more products each day, is also expected to exercise a purchasing sophistication that is wholly unrealistic. In 1850, the consumer's day was twenty-four hours long and a purchase was a major event, Today the day is still twenty-four hours long, but purchases come In rapid succession-purchases of much more complex products. To provide controlling guidelines, Haeusler wants the consumer to demand not just "safety," but those limited safety features which the companies decide to reveal to the market This approach would keep consumer safety expectations within bounds and avoid public participation (through government) In corporate safety policies. Then the car makers would determine whether to provide them as options or standard equipment, and at what price.

As a strategy to get his company moving, Haeusler's approach is understandable. But as a belief it is detrimental to the emergence of manufacturing integrity. That Haeusler does, indeed, believe in it is illustrated by his comparison of compelling the customer to take safety as being similar to compelling people to take polio shots. This is analogy by desperation.

The issue is not, as Haeusler would have it, a matter of compulsion, but simply one of value not received. Every year American car buyers are paying, according to a study by Massachusetts Institute of Technology economists, about seven hundred dollars per car for the costs of the annual model change. With such a gigantic billing, it would not be unreasonable to anticipate an annual product improvement that afforded a substantial safety advance.


The positions taken by Stonex, Haynes, and Haeusler on automotive safety reflect their secondary status in the hierarchy of corporate priorities and budgeting. In the absence of company figures, federal highway safety researchers estimate that the automobile manufacturers allot a total of two million dollars a year to the design and evaluation of crash safety improvements. This amounts to about twenty-three cents for every car sold. This is an estimate that gives a generous benefit of the doubt to the companies. For the research output disclosed by them to the world of engineering and science is so insignificant that it constitutes a mockery. The few technical papers describing their crash tests are heavily repetitive and offer little insight into the development of safer designs. The major studies in collision protection have been done by a handful of university and military researchers -- and even company safety engineers have recognized this fact.

Although the collision safety testing and development programs of the automobile manufacturers have been woefully deficient, there is strong evidence in the form of company-held patents and certain public statements that more is known than is admitted at meetings sum as the ones the industry held with GSA officials. For example, in describing a new impact sled, Stonex told a group of specialists, "This laboratory instrument makes it possible to simulate dynamic tests of complete cars in up to 30 mph head-on crashes, and of components to much higher severity. Test results are confidential, naturally." Statements like this shock physicians who are working with safety problems. Such policies, wrote Dr. C. Hunter Shelden in 1955, if "translated into medicine would be comparable to withholding methods of lifesaving value."

Secrecy in safety data and developments is part of the environment which forces men like Stonex, Haynes, and Haeusler to subordinate whatever initiatives might How from professional dictates in favor of preserving their passive roles as engineer-employees. The 1965 graduating class of Lawrence Institute of Technology heard the message that has shaped the working lives of the automotive safety engineers. Sumner B. Twiss of Chrysler advised the new engineers at commencement exercises that "a prime requisite for getting ahead in industry is identification of your personal objectives with the objectives of the company." Twiss declared that leadership in industry goes to those who believe in the company and what it is doing and feel that its grand schemes reflect their own personal schemes. This attitude, he said, can be more important for advancement than depth of technical knowledge.
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Re: Unsafe At Any Speed: The Designed-In Dangers of the Amer

Postby admin » Tue Oct 29, 2013 9:44 pm

PART 2 OF 2 (CH. 5 CONT'D.)

Engineer-employees serve their companies in other important activities intended to reduce the scope of conflict between automobile makers and to control the content of government action wherever it cannot be avoided altogether. The principal institution for the industry coordination of decisions concerning the technical issues in vehicle safety is the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), a tax-exempt organization founded in 1905, which describes itself as follows: "The object of the Society is to promote the Arts, Sciences, Standards and Engineering Practices connected with the design, construction and utilization of self-propelled mechanisms, prime movers, components thereof, and related equipment." The society holds meetings to discuss technical papers and develops engineering standards and recommended practices. SAE reported a gross income in 1963 of $1,549,808, composed mainly of individual membership dues and industry contributions.

The control by the automobile industry of SAE's motor vehicle standards work is so complete that the engineering community does not consider the society as anything more than a ratifier of industry policies and decisions. The Automobile Manufacturers Association is SAE's traffic light.

In the structure and operation of SAE's working committees is seen the impressive connections between SAE and the automobile industry. The automotive council of the SAE technical board is composed of numerous committees and subcommittees dealing with automobile safety. Membership on these committees is held mostly by engineer-employees of the motor vehicle manufacturers. Although membership in SAE is on an individual basis, the corporate employer is always identified alongside the member's name on the committee rosters. The automotive safety committee is composed of eight members-all employees of motor vehicle producers. The same is true of the bumper height technical committee, and over four-fifths of the membership of the body engineering committee is similarly constituted. Other committees, such as the brake committee, include a few representatives from universities, government agencies, and companies who supply the automobile industry.

Apart from numerical dominance, the automobile manufacturers have a practical veto power. SAE Technical Board Rule 8.1 states: "Reports submitted to the Council for approval, in general, should have the unanimous approval of the committee making such a submittal. Where unanimous approval cannot be achieved, reports shall have the approval of at least three-quarters of the members." Rule 8.6 reads: "Councils will strive for unanimous approval, and in no case will they approve a report which has not been approved by three-quarters of their members."

The automobile industry also finances the work leading to the development of standards or recommended practices. It does this by contributing to SAE staff support and by absorbing the time and expenses of its employees who, as SAE members, attend committee meetings and use company testing facilities in the writing of standards. SAE does not undertake work on a new standard or recommended practice unless requested to do so by the industry-dominated SAE technical boards -- which must reflect a consensus of their members. This intricate network of participation and control is a basic reason why no SAE standard, recommended practice, or information report in the motor vehicle field has ever been promulgated without industry endorsement.

SAE's entry into the automobile crash protection area was a late one. The first SAE recommended practice was in 1955, and dealt with specifying a minimum loop strength of three thousand pounds for a two-inch-wide seat belt. Since that year, SAE's work in vehicle safety has dealt either with specifying test procedures or with establishing minimum performance levels for those safety features which had become the subject of legislation or threatened legislation. These include seat belt assemblies and anchorages, passenger car side-door latches, and rear vision in passenger cars. Generally, however, SAE technical positions on vehicle safety are grossly incomplete or nonexistent. Bumper standards are apparently taken care of by SAE Standard J681, concerning bumper heights, which defines heights only for front bumper "dip" and rear bumper "lift" when the vehicle experiences a maximum brake stop at five to ten miles per hour. Another standard, SAE J903, deals with performance requirements of the windshield wiper, but not the area of the windshield to be wiped. SAE J839, the standard for passenger car side-door latches, was written by a subcommittee composed entirely of automobile industry employees. The standard calls for the latch to have a load resistance of 1500 pounds -- an unusually weak level that some automobile manufacturers have recently felt necessary to exceed. The requirements in Standard J839 for testing the latches are even more limited, failing to provide for several kinds of crash stresses.

SAE has never developed, for example, standards or recommended practices for tires, impact criteria for the steering assembly, glare levels, dashboard panel instruments and controls, sun visors, handles, knobs or other load-concentrating projections and passenger compartment crashworthiness. It was not until 1961 that industry representatives allowed the establishment of the Automotive Safety Committee.

The only other private standardizing organization that has dealt with aspects of the automobile is the major standards group in the United States -- the American Standards Association (ASA). (It has approved standards for automobile safety glass, glare and reflection levels, and vehicle inspection criteria.) ASA is a national federation of 140 technical societies and trade organizations, and has some 2200 company members. ASA does not initiate or write standards; it considers standards for approval only on the request of a responsible organization or group. [1]

As a result, ASA bas reflected the desire of the automotive industry to have SAE standards dominate the motor vehicle field. This important domination is made possible by the consensus principle that is crucial to the way ASA works. An ASA standard can be approved only if there is a consensus among all groups which are substantially concerned with its subject matter. This gives the automobile industry another veto on all proposals dealing with automobiles for, as an ASA statement reads, "Votes are weighed rather than counted." An objection by the automobile industry, or even a major automobile company, would be enough to outweigh all opposing votes.

Both SAE and ASA standards are advisory only. Their use by anyone engaged in industry or trade is voluntary, but since they are approved by the majority, they are used by the majority. In the motor vehicle safety field, these standards form the substance of a unified industry policy on particular technical issues. And the consensus principle makes almost certain that the lowest common denominator of performance requirements is adopted.

The typical pattern followed in SAE automotive safety standards or recommended practices is to state only a single minimum performance value -- such as the load to be withstood by door latch and striker assemblies -- without any accompanying technical reasoning or explanation. The committees work in secret, and there is no release of proposed standards or recommended practices for technical comment or criticism by SAE membership or the scientific and engineering community at large. The first time an SAE member sees the standard is after it has been formally promulgated. Once a standard is announced, the automobile industry can then say to the outside world that its products meet the standards set by the Society of Automotive Engineers -- which, in the words of a former SAE president, James Zeder, "serves no selfish interest."

The industry has found more ambitious objectives for SAE standards when it comes to translating those standards into public law. Their policy runs in this pattern: since standards inform the buyer of what he has a right to expect from the seller, the industry, as seller, recognizes the importance of getting SAE standards incorporated into laws and regulations which define the level of safety that must be assured to the consumer. As public pressure for safety legislation increases, activity of SAE commit tees will also increase to make sure that lawmakers will have industry-approved criteria to put into the new laws.

There is ample precedent for this approach. Automobile Manufacturers Association "field representatives" routinely advocate -- with success -- that state legislation employ an SAE standard as its yardstick. Seat belt laws in many states explicitly include SAE standards, for example. Brake fluid legislation in over twenty-five states is written on the basis of SAE standards. AMA lobbyists usually have little difficulty. Since state lawmakers have no alter native recognized source of technical standards, whatever is available is adopted. Should there be any skeptics, the prestige and standing of SAE is emphasized by citing its formal participation in the work of the ASA, the Highway Research Board of the National Academy of Sciences, the Interstate Commerce Commission's advisory committees, the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Laws and Ordinances, the National Highway Users' Conference and the National Safety Council. Such prestige and power makes almost irresistible the casting of SAE into the role of ad hoc legislator.

The Automobile Manufacturers Association is also alert to any threat of an independent standards-setting capability being set up in government. In 1960, the AMA suggested an amendment to H.B. 1341 (the original House bill directing the General Services Administration to set safety standards for government-procured vehicles). The proposed amendment read: "Such standards shall conform to nationally recognized standards such as those published by the American Standards Association and the Society of Automotive Engineers [and shall] be revised from time to time to revisions in said nationally recognized standards." This language was not adopted in the bill which finally became law (called the Roberts law) on August 30, 1964. The automobile makers simply shifted gears and tried to achieve the same objective through their industry advisory committee to the GSA officials who were administering the Roberts law. At the specification development conferences, the duet of William Sherman of the AMA and George Gaudaen of the SAE (who was formerly Sherman's assistant at AMA) sang a similar tune: if we don't already have the standards and test procedures for you, we'll have them soon.

Gaudaen's position was so blatantly attuned to the special interests of the industry that it became embarrassing to his colleagues from the AMA. SAE, after all, is supposed to be a professional association with a suite separate from that of the AMA in the New Center Building in Detroit. But Gaudaen advised GSA, with a mixture of the arbitrariness and authority that is so cl1aracteristic of the SAE, that it should dismiss from its proposed lists of safety features a number of items not considered to be of safety significance. Included in the list were seats to prevent neck injuries, bumper performance and heights, rear window defogger and wiper, and exhaust controls. He then insisted that consideration of five other features on GSA's proposed list be deferred until long-run studies by the SAE and the industry were completed. This group included safer instruments and knobs, handles and window controls, padded roof lining, drive signaling, and the design of instrument panel controls. The remaining items on the list Gaudaen tied to SAE standards and test procedures that were either already established or imminent under the SAE's speeded-up program to serve GSA in its mission.

SAE is no less diligent in protecting the commercial interests of the industry than it has been in defending the political interests of its sponsor. SAE's role as minion is shown in the story of the industry's long-standing practice of rigging odometers -- the devices that record the number of miles traveled.

In 1963 the National Bureau of Standards (Department of Commerce) released the MacKay report, which showed with irrefutable exactness that for American automobiles, a mile is not necessarily a mile. For years, as some alert motorists know, Americans have been driving less than they think they have. The MacKay study showed that automobile odometers over-registered mileage on an average of 3.21 per cent, with some cars registering an error of over 5 per cent.

Complaints about odometers have been registered for years with state agencies and the Federal Trade Commission. But state regulations defining the permissible margin of error were ignored by the industry and not enforced by the state administrators.

Few practices can be more deceptive than tampering with the integrity of a measurement, whether it be miles, pounds, or inches. Few deceptions could serve such a variety of purposes. Car and tire warranties based on mileage run out sooner when odometers are over-set. Gas-mileage-per-gallon claims of manufacturers are overestimated or inflated, making easier the task described by Ford's Ray Pittman: "We fight for fractions of one per cent for fuel economy." A car owner could receive a lower trade-in value because depreciation is estimated partly on total mileage traveled. Over-set odometers tend to make the car owner think his vehicle is ready to trade in sooner, which helps feed the new car turnover. Finally, customers who rent cars pay for miles they did not drive. Based on the estimate of 1.25 billion miles traveled in 1964 by rented passenger cars, a 3.31 per cent overcharge, at the rate of ten cents a mile, would amount to an overcharge of almost four million dollars. An average 3.21 per cent premium on gross sales is a healthy fillip for the large, car-buying rental companies.

The automobile industry learned of the National Bureau of Standards study of odometer performance in 1962. An Automobile Manufacturers Association odometer committee was formed to represent the industry in meetings with bureau officials who were working out new standards for the states so that odometers would have to register an average error nearer to zero. (Because a variety of conditions such as tire size, inflation pressure, weight, and road pavement affect odometer readings, it had been customary to provide for a plus-or-minus error tolerance range around zero.)

The AMA odometer committee did not dispute the National Bureau of Standards findings. It stated that member companies ordered odometers from suppliers according to SAE specifications. SAE recommended practice J678b permits a five per cent over-registration error.

But the AMA knew that the game was over, at least to the extent that it was played, and in December 1964 the Automobile Manufacturers Association informed the National Bureau of Standards that in 1965 manufacturers would install odometers that were set to the new bureau specifications.

The AMA position, so long unquestioned by the public guardians of weights and measures, was wholly untenable from both an engineering and a moral viewpoint It was technically simple to produce more accurate odometers. Yet inquiries about the role of SAE as a ratifying participant in a fraud on consumers still elicit only the stock reply from SAE's New York headquarters that "the speedometer and odometer are designed and manufactured to be as accurate as possible."

Despite all the facts, SAE apparently does not consider its position any more incongruous than the fact that it held shares in Hertz Corporation during the period of the odometer investigation. [2]

Another service performed by SAE for the automobile industry is public relations. For example, since a company brochure on the safety of its automobiles cannot avoid a partisanship that would call its objectivity into question, it is far more effective to have the "message" relayed to the public under the auspices of SAE. Indeed, anyone who writes to one of the "big three" automobile companies for printed matter on safety is likely to receive a thirty-seven-page paper entitled "The Safety the Motorist Gets," with the SAE emblem prominently displayed in the upper left hand comer. 'This booklet is a detailed attempt to show that the automobile manufacturers give the motorist "all the safety that can be built in without destroying the utility of his vehicle." The pamphlet has five sections, including contributions by all the domestic automobile makers; it ends with a section of full-page maps of all the companies' proving grounds and the assurance that safer automobiles have probably been the greatest contribution toward keeping the casualty rate down.

"The Safety the Motorist Gets" was published as SAE paper SP-165 in June 1959 and is still being circulated, suggesting that vehicle safety developments since that year have not diminished its enduring currency. It is an argumentative brief for the industry's commercial practices and policies in automotive safety. One of the instances in which the pamphlet was used occurred when the House subcommittee on health and safety began its hearings in 1959. One of the issues it was considering was whether new safety devices should be standard equipment or extra-cost options. The SAE paper, a copy of which had been dispatched to the committee by SAE General Manager John Warner, explained that proven safety devices fall into two categories: those devices whose "immediate application on all cars is considered virtually imperative, such as sealed-beam head lamps," and those which are "clearly an aid to safe driving, but something less than a vital necessity." The pamphlet went on to explain that safety equipment in the second category is first introduced as an option and only adopted as standard equipment "when public demand becomes substantial enough." As examples of items that had passed this test of the marketplace, the pamphlet cited windshield wipers and directional signals. As current examples of devices which the industry felt should first be put through this test, the paper listed power windows, power seats, reclining seats, head rests -- and seat belts!

"The Safety the Motorist Gets" discusses and defends controversial issues of design and industry policy which have no connection whatever with the stated purpose of SAE to advance the state of the art of automotive engineering. The SAE constitution said, "Matters relating to politics or purely to trade shall not be discussed at a meeting of this Society or be included in its publications." But "The Safety the Motorist Gets" is sprinkled with dozens of references to "industry" or "manufacturers" in the general context of praising the high industry standards, the rigorous testing and inspection, and the millions of miles of durability runs on the industry proving grounds.

Three months before SP-165 was released, Lloyd Withrow, head of the General Motors fuels and lubricants department, expressed his concern that SAE ought to publish better technical papers. He wrote: "I have talked with people who believe that SAE performs more like a trade association than a professional engineering society. These people say that the society appears to be more concerned with the production, sale and distribution of automotive products than either the development of new engineering knowledge or the application of sound engineering principles to the design of new automotive equipment." Few of SAE's 25,000 members would be surprised at Withrow's observations.

Only one member formally challenged the propriety of "The Safety the Motorist Gets" before the SAE's National Council. The council unanimously rejected the challenge, but SAE president Leonard Raymond wrote in the March 1960 issue of the SAE journal that "there may have been departures from best practice in connection with the paper in question ... and we intend to see to it that they are not repeated in the future." But Mr. Raymond did not request the automobile makers' public relations offices to cease distributing the paper.

The SAE automotive council and its committees are rarely called on to confront challenges or dissent. By planning the subject matter for the technical meetings, and by arranging for the papers to be delivered, SAE leaders have made certain that not a single paper devoted to engineering criticism of contemporary vehicle safety design has found its way into the SAE program. This is quite a record, since almost five hundred technical papers and articles on motor vehicle subjects are delivered each year at SAE gatherings.

On only one occasion -- the summer meeting of 1961 -- was the curtain parted briefly to permit the reading of a paper by Dr. William Haddon, a leading accident researcher who is associated with the New York State Department of Health. Dr. Haddon, whose background is in medicine and engineering, made an incisive analysis of the ways the medical and public health professions were approaching the problem of motor vehicle accident injuries, aided by techniques originally developed for the investigation and control of communicable diseases. He characterized both goals -- disease prevention and accident prevention -- as being fundamentally "engineering" problems. That is, concentration on the hostile environment -- the malaria swamp or the interior of a vehicle-is almost invariably more productive than trying to manipulate the behavior of people. He described to his engineering audience the path he saw ahead. "Our two professions," Dr. Haddon said, "have an objective in common which will continue to confront us probably for the remainder of our professional lives. This objective is the prevention, partial or complete, of some forty thousand deaths per year, and the reduction, amelioration or elimination of an additional four million injuries. ... The greatest challenge which you as a profession now face and may ever have faced, is the challenge of designing a vehicle which, under the normal conditions of its daily use, does not, in the accidents which inevitably happen, result in injury and death of substantial numbers of its users ... the success of your profession in the present decade will largely be weighed in terms of its success in handling this overwhelming problem."

Dr. Haddon's powerful appeal to automotive engineers to apply their professional dedication to the safety of their products was received with polite lack of interest. Later, even the politeness vanished. No SAE publication list contains a reference to his address. The heads of SAE did not consider it worthy of publication, and no reason had to be given for the omission, just as no reason had to be given for the inclusion of such items as remote from engineering as The Feminine Mystique in Design.

Actually Dr. Haddon's effort was doomed from the beginning. He was addressing a body that does not exist: the automotive engineering profession. The Society of Automotive Engineers bas no code of ethics, and it subscribes to no code of ethics in the engineering world. This is a serious lapse, ethics are more than slogans meant to fill a plaque to be hung on office walls. Ethics define important social interests which a profession assumes the responsibility to serve, and they require an independence from the erosive or destructive effects of commercial pressures.

For example, the code of ethics of the National Society of Professional Engineers makes clear what the duty of the individual engineer is in regard to safety. Section Two says, "The Engineer will have proper regard for the safety, health and welfare of the public in the performance of his professional duties. If his engineering judgment is overruled by non- technical authority, he will clearly point out the consequences. He will notify the proper authority of any observed conditions which endanger public safety and health.... He will not complete, sign or seal plans and/or specifications that are not of a design safe to the public health and welfare.... If the client or employer insists on such unprofessional conduct, he shall notify the proper authorities and withdraw from further service on the project."

In order concretely to develop the meaning of its code, the National Society of Professional Engineers' board of ethical review comments on actual cases that are brought to its attention. One case involved a company which manufactured a defective automated mass transportation system. The engineer responsible for the project reported to his superiors that the system failed the final tests and, as it was, presented a danger to the public. He was told that to meet contract commitments, the equipment would be shipped to the client-purchaser without notification of the failure of the final tests. Over the objection of the engineer, the shipment was made. Did the engineer have any further ethical duty? The board concluded that he did, stating that he should have brought the danger to the attention of the client and the responsible authorities.

In medicine, law, architecture, and other professions, academic institutions provide nourishment for the perpetuation of professional standards. But only a shadow of a professional discipline in the automotive engineering Held exists at universities. It is decidedly the poorest segment of the engineering curricula. Research on vehicle mechanics, for instance, involves only a half dozen small projects. Automobile collision testing and measurement is limited to UCLA's Institute of Transportation and Traffic Engineering -- and there on only a sporadic basis. Automotive engineering courses -- indeed, even engineering professors specializing in automotive mechanics -- are a rarity, as are graduate students who follow such a course of study. The amount of technical literature flowing from the universities is pitifully small. As the new engineering specialties expand and absorb the better engineering students, the situation in automotive studies and facilities at universities is not likely to improve. It is a condition that goes back many years and has had most unfortunate consequences which Leonard Segel of the Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory has described thus:
"Instead of a student and faculty focus on automotive engineering that would generate a 'free' and an 'all-divulging' automotive literature, we have had an industry focus which ... does not develop a professional attitude among most engineers employed within the automotive industry. Both business management and engineering management are willing to take undergraduates, give them test-and-process engineering assignments, and gradually teach them the 'industry way.' It is argued that unless an atmosphere of professionalism surrounds the research worker, his efforts, whether good, bad, or mediocre, will come to no avail."

Professor Wolfgang Meyer of Pennsylvania State University is concerned with how the automotive engineering curriculum has neglected engineering problems with immense human welfare implications -- such as vehicle emissions and vehicle safety. Meyer points out that the development of automobile engineering has been overwhelmingly a proving ground, cut-and-try process.

For example, the theoretical study of engines or vehicle handling and braking bas lagged far behind the engineering applications. This deficiency makes empirical findings less complete, reduces their predictive value and limits the advance of automotive engineering.

The creative work published on the theoretical aspects of automotive technology-from tires to engines to vehicle dynamics -- has for many years been far greater at European universities and technical institutes than that coming from American academic institutions or the American automobile industry. The European research has long been the vanguard of the automotive engineering discipline.

The automobile companies have been wary of the possible implications of independent automotive research centers at universities. Such projects could become alternative sources of information about automobile technology, including the performance of contemporary cars, techniques for making them safer, and detailed data from which to prepare standards for government safety regulation. So far, the industry has had little to worry about; there are no such centers. So long as the professors remain "detached" in their pursuit of knowledge, the automobile companies have found that occasional retainers and educators' conferences at their manufacturing plants are enough to form their university relations policy.

Only one professor, James Ryan of the University of Minnesota, has squarely and persistently challenged the automobile manufacturers to build crashworthy vehicles. Ryan's credentials are impressive. They include creative achievements in industry and a thirty-year academic career during which he invented numerous devices, the most famous of which was the flight recorder that is now standard equipment for all jet transports. His distinction is not just one of intellect, but of courage and a professional commitment to engineering responsibility. On many occasions, in spite of frail health, he strapped himself into special deceleration carts and had himself driven into a wall to test his designs for reducing the forces of collisions. For fourteen years, until his retirement in 1963 because of a rheumatic heart condition, Ryan investigated and tested automobiles designed to prevent injuries to occupants during collisions. With a total budget of about $140,000, he developed automatic seat belts, hydraulic shock-absorbing bumpers, a large padded steering post with a short-travel absorber, a retracting steering-wheel rim for the driver, and a dashboard recessed under the windshield in front of the passenger. He tested all these designs in dozens of collision impacts, carefully recording the data from each test. His chief contribution was the energy-absorbing bumper. On November 13, 1957, accompanied by a graduate student, Ryan got into a 1956 Ford car, fitted with this bumper, at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico. The car was driven into a solid crash barricade at twenty miles per hour, with no injuries resulting to the passengers or the vehicle. In March 1961 a volunteer, Peter Schoeck, rode a cart into a wall at twenty-five miles per hour and suffered no injuries. Although a barrier crash at forty miles per hour generates four times more energy than a crash at twenty miles per hour, Ryan was set in his intention to prove that with refinements of his energy-absorbing designs, a collision at the forty-mile speed would result in no more than superficial injury. His funds and his health ran out before he could do so.

The response of automobile company engineers to Ryan's work was either to ignore it, or to scorn and ridicule him. In the classic pose of engineers reflecting corporate policies, they leveled criticisms about his bumper in a pejorative vein not at all characteristic of science. Every engineering authority outside of the automobile industry. considers Ryan's work to be an important contribution to vehicle safety. A Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory document stated in 1965: "Among the various proposed devices for injury attenuation in automobile crashes, the concept of an energy-absorbing front bumper presents the most favorable opportunity for a direct application of analytical and experimental techniques. It is noteworthy that the majority of both verbal and written criticism [there was only one written reference, a one-hundred word memo without data by GM's Kenneth Stonex] of Professor Ryan's experimentation are leveled at faults in his design, rather than at the basic principle of a controlled rate of energy absorption. In fact, it is sometimes claimed, without substantiating proof or evidence, that the sheet metal on modern automobiles is 'equivalent' to Ryan's bumper for the energy absorption function. However, Ryan's experimental results indicate distinct benefits, when compared with the corresponding frontal-collision responses of a 'standard' automobile, in the forms of a reduced peak vehicle deceleration and reduced peak seat-belt loads on the occupants."

The reception the industry gave Ryan's work illustrates how futile it is to expect that engineering contributions to recognized problems in collision safety will affect the automobile makers' product policy. Ernest Cunningham, editor of Design News, made the relevant distinction in 1960: "I do not question the ability of automotive designers. They can improve design safety. I question the moral honesty of the executive management responsible for policy direction, which year after year ignores design safety."

The lesson of many years is plain. The liberation of the engineering imagination for automotive safety cannot take place within the automobile industry. Nor, apparently, can it be stimulated to overcome internal corporate resistance by such outside contributions as Professor Ryan's. The remaining alternative is the creation of an independent technical capability outside the industry which sees vehicle safety as an engineering problem to be solved by engineering solutions, unfettered by industry constraints, secrecy, and sophistry.

Because of the efforts of New York State Senator Edward Speno and his automotive consultant, Henry Wakeland, the first positive step toward this objective has been taken. Their efforts resulted in an overwhelming vote by the New York legislature for the passage of a bill authorizing a feasibility study of a prototype safety car program. The bill, with a $100,000 appropriation, was signed by Governor Rockefeller on July 15, 1965.

Should the feasibility study result in the launching of the safety car program in 1966, it will be the first attempt to bring automotive safety technology within the mainstream of the modem systems analysis that has been used with such success In attaining aerospace missions. It is this level of technological capability which makes the disingenuous efforts of the automobile industry in safety appear so old-fashioned. As the achievements of space and defense technology reveal, missions today need only to be defined and financed in order to be performed. Now for the first time a state government is considering the purchase of such a performed mission in order to exercise its responsibility of applying the most effective measures to reduce casualties on the highway.

The Speno-Wakeland program will cost three to five million dollars-about the price of the latest jet fighter plane. For this modest expenditure three primary goals are anticipated: (1) the research, design, construction, and testing of several prototype cars embodying all feasible safety features and suitable for mass production, (2) a complete set of performance requirements and tests supported by full technical rationale on the basis of which the legislature can adopt safety standards and (3) complete public disclosure of design drawings, construction specifications, and knowledge, together with tooling requirements and cost analysis for limited mass production.

Two longer-range objectives of the program are the establishment of clear performance criteria that will enable motorists to judge the relative safety levels of the cars they purchase, and the provision of detailed data and designs for any manufacturer to utilize. It is hoped that competition for safety, so long avoided by the giant automobile companies acting jointly, will be stimulated in this manner.

The noble attainments which Wakeland, as director of the New York State Safety Car Project, has set for himself recall the comment of Dr. J. Douglas Brown, dean of the faculty at Princeton University: "The central attribute of a learned profession is responsibility, not for a segmented detail of a total problem, but for an effective solution of the total problem. This means for the profession of engineering that the days are past when each specialist can withdraw into his specialty and become a servant of someone else's grand design.... If engineers can design space ships to go to the moon, why can't they design a safer automobile?"



1. ASA estimates its own prestige in this way: ''There is general understanding that ASA operates in the public interest. An example will illustrate the significance of this impartiality. Years ago, an association had difficulty in getting its safety standard accepted by a number of states as the basis for state safety regulations. The standard was technically sound. But apparently it was considered a special-interest group pursuing its own commercial motives. The standard was then submitted to ASA and was subsequently approved without changes as an American Standard. As such, it was accepted by the states without objection."

2. SAE also owns shares in several petroleum and tire manufacturing companies whose products are obviously integral to the automobile over which the society exercises its standardizing functions.
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Re: Unsafe At Any Speed: The Designed-In Dangers of the Amer

Postby admin » Tue Oct 29, 2013 9:46 pm

Chapter 6: The Stylists: It's the Curve That Counts

The importance of the stylist's role in automobile design is frequently obscured by critics whose principal tools are adjectives. The words are familiar: stylists build "insolent chariots," they deal with tremendous trifles to place on "Detroit Iron." Or, in the moralist's language, the work of the stylists is "decadent, wasteful, and superficial."

The stylists' work cannot be dismissed so glibly. For however transitory or trivial their visible creations may be on the scale of human values, their function has been designated by automobile company top management as the prerequisite for maintaining the annual high volume of automobile sales -- no small assignment in an industry that has a volume of at least twenty billion dollars every year.

It is the stylists ,who are responsible for most of the annual model change which promises the consumer "new" automobiles. It is not surprising, therefore, to find that this "newness" is almost entirely stylistic in content and that engineering innovation is restricted to a decidedly secondary role in product development.

In the matter of vehicle safety, this restriction bas two main effects. First, of the dollar amount that the manufacturer is investing in a vehicle, whatever is spent for styling cannot be spent for engineering. Thus, the costs of styling divert money that might be devoted to safety. Second, stylistic suggestions often conflict with engineering ideas, and since the industry holds the view that "seeing is selling; style gets the priority.

Styling's precedence over engineering safety is well illustrated by this statement in a General Motors engineering journal: "The choice of latching means and actuating means, or handles, is dictated by styling requirements. Changes in body style will continue to force redesign of door locks and handles." Another feature of style's priority over safety shows up in the paint and chrome finishes of the vehicle, which, while they provide a shiny new automobile for the dealer's floor, also create dangerous glare. Stylists can even be credited with overall concepts that result in a whole new variety of hazard. The hard-top convertible and the pillarless models, for example, were clearly the products of General Motors styling staff.

Engineering features that are crucial to the transportation function of the vehicle do exert some restraining influence on styling decisions. A car must have four tires, and though the stylists may succeed shortly in coloring them, it is unlikely that aromatic creampuffs will replace the rubber. But conflicts between style and traditional engineering features are not often resolved in the latter's favor. For example, rational design of the instrument panel does not call for yearly change or recurring variety. Yet the stylists have had their way and at the same time have met management's demands for the interchangeability of components between different car makes. In one instance the 1964 Oldsmobile used exactly the same heater control as the 1964 Buick. In one brand it was placed in a horizontal position; in the other it was used vertically, With this technique, four separate and "different" instrument panels were created for each division.

This differentiating more and more about less and less has reached staggering proportions, In 1957 the Fisher body division produced for the five General Motors car divisions more than 75 different body styles with 450 interior soft trim combinations and a huge number of exterior paint combinations. By 1963 this output proliferated to 140 body styles and 843 trim combinations. Different designs for what General Motors styling chief Harley Earl called "dynamic obsolescence" must be created for many elements of the car: front ends, rear ends, hoods, ornaments, rear decks and rear quarter panels, tail lamps, bumper shades, rocker panels, and the latest items being offered in an outburst of infinite variation -- wheel covers and lugs.

These styling features form the substance of sales promotion and advertising, The car makers' appeals are emotional; they seek to inspire excitement, aesthetic pleasure, and the association of the glistening model in its provocative setting with the prospect's most far-reaching personal visions and wish-fulfillment. This approach may seem flighty, but the industry has learned that the technique sells cars to people who have no other reason to buy them with such frequency.

In recent years, campaigns saturated with the "style sell" have moved on to bolder themes. A 1964 advertisement for the Chevrolet Chevelle said, "We didn't just make the Chevelle beautiful and hope for the best.... If you think all we had in mind was a good-looking car smaller than the Chevrolet and bigger than Chevy II, read on," Curved side windows, the ad continued, are not just for appearance, "they slant way in for easy entry and don't need bulky space-wasting doors to roll down into." In addition, Chevelle's "long wide hood looks nice, too," because of all that goes under it-"a wide choice of Six and V-8 engines,"

A Buick advertisement listed a number of regular vehicle features and commented, "You don't really need these, but how can you resist them?"

In Motor Trend magazine, a publication not addressed to "hot rodders" but to well-informed car hobbyists, the headline of a Plymouth advertisement read, "This is a status symbol." Its final paragraph read, "Plymouth Satellite's a decidedly undemocratic machine. Power-hungry people are the ones it really goes for."

Such advertisements are anything but hidden and subliminal persuaders. To turn the promotion of a transportation machine into an appeal so far removed from the functional quality of that machine, and to do so with commercial success, is an impressive, if disturbing, achievement in applied social science. It is an achievement made possible in large part by the amazing rise of the stylist in the hierarchy of automobile company management.

The stylist did not carve out his own role: it was waiting for him In the late twenties, at the death of the Model T Ford. For years after introducing his Model T in 1909, Henry Ford did very well selling cars to Americans, giving them "any color so long as it was black." Going into the twenties, the Ford held a commanding lead over its numerous competitors. The twenties was the crucial decade for the kind of automobile the public was to be sold in future years and for the industry that was going to produce it. During the first half of that decade, the mechanical features of the automobile-the power plant, drive train, and running gear-achieved engineering maturity and became mo;" reliable. A stronger chassis frame and a passenger cabin were developed, and the suspension system improved the security and comfort of travel. Important assembly line production problems were overcome, and this permitted more uniform and efficient output. In other words, car companies were no longer forced to appeal to their customers with the kind of fundamental assurance that an early ad carried: "It gets you there and it brings you back." In 1925, 3,735,171 passenger cars were sold, compared with 1,905,560 in 1920.

In 1927, for the first time since it introduced the Model T, Ford lost its sales lead to General Motors, never again to regain it. In that year the 1927 La Salle became the first car to be "styled" -- by Harley Earl, who had joined General Motors a year earlier. In response, Henry Ford came out with his "re-styled" Model A. The era of styling began.

At first the stylist was little more than a decorator of the trim and color of the basic body, after its size, shape, and materials had been determined by the engineers and approved by management. The change in emphasis from mechanical to styling features was explained by a leading stylist, Charles Jordan: "For economic reasons, the mechanical assemblies couldn't be frequently changed, since no sales appeal lay in changing them when the result had no dramatic effect on performance. This evolutionary engineering of the car's functional parts tended to promote near-sameness in the products of all major competitors. This, in turn, opened the eyes and ears of company management to the arguments of the men who could provide real visible change under these conditions -- the stylists."

Another General Motors stylist, Vincent Kaptur, Jr., described the cars of the late twenties as having become more than cars. They expressed "status, power, fun, glamour, and freedom. The comforts, desires, and whims of the human being took precedence over the machine."

Actually, the problem the automobile industry was grappling with was one of maintaining a sales pace every year for a product that lasts for nearly a decade. Up to a point, a new invention like the automobile can show rising sales by simply meeting the demand for transportation. At that saturation point, however, the demand becomes less and less responsive to price reduction (the Model T had gone as low as $290) and functional improvement. A satiety threshold sets in that is similar to the limits which govern the consumer demand for food. But an emotional demand can be exploited for a much higher curve on the sales chart. There has never been established a human quota for "status, power, fun, glamour, and freedom." Thus the second stage in the evolution of a consumer product is reached: the time for catering to buyers' wants instead of simply to their needs.

General Motors has been the most aggressive advocate of styling. The first distinct styling section was organized in 1927 under Harley Earl. It was called "The Art and Colour Section." At first, the stylists' position was not secure when it came to disagreements with engineers. Earl's first contributions, slanted windshields and thin comer-pillars, had to be justified as "improving visibility," But by the late thirties Earl's group became the "General Motors styling section," and he was elevated to a vice presidency, indicating that the stylist's function was equal in importance to the work of the engineering, legal, company public relations, and manufacturing departments. The styling departments went through similar developments in other automobile companies. The engineer's authority over the design of the automobile was finished. As Charles Jordan of General Motors said, "Previously, functional improvement or cost reduction was a good reason for component redesign, but [in the thirties] the engineer had to learn to appreciate new reasons for redesigns." In a paper delivered before the Society of Automotive Engineers in 1962, Jordan demonstrated how the importance of the stylist has continued to grow when he urged that the word "styling" be replaced by the word "designer." Jordan said that the "designer" (that is, the stylist) is "the architect of the car, the coordinator of all the elements that make up the complete car, and the artist who gives it form. He stands at the beginning, his approach to and responsibility for the design of the vehicle is parallel to that of an architect of a building." An observer might wonder what was left for the engineer to do but play the part of a technical minion. Jordan ended his address by looking into the future. He foresaw changes in the automobile industry that he described as "drastic and far-reaching." He listed eleven questions in advanced research inquiry for which the styling research and the advanced vehicle design sections were working to find answers. Not one concerned collision protection.

Other manufacturers have not stated such a dominant role for the stylist, though they agree that the automobile will continue to be the major industrial art form in our society. Gene Bordinat, vice president and director of styling for Ford Motor Company said, "Styling serves to make the public aware that here is a new product, with improvements in materials, components and mechanical design-features that might be hidden to anyone but a mechanic or an engineer. People want to know about these things. And if they buy the car, they don't want its best features to be concealed. They want identification where it is visible to one and all. It's the same sort of urge that causes some girls to wear tight sweaters."

That urge to make its assets visible was certainly the central motivation behind the development of the car that created the most dramatic success story in Mr. Bordinat's own company. The introduction, the promotion, and the success of Ford's Mustang was the climactic triumph in the advancement of the stylist to the level of pre-eminence in the industry. The stylist in this case was helped by another new tool: market research. For the mass psychological phenomenon of the Mustang began with a market analysis that discovered even such details as how many college students wanted bucket seats for "first dates" (42%). It moved on, after Ford's decision that the advance surveys had identified a "real market," to advance publicity. The Mustang was to be "a new breed of horse." Both Time and Newsweek, for the first time devoted simultaneous cover stories to a new automobile.

Even before the press coverage and massive advertising campaigns were under way, Ford began receiving thousands of orders from people who had never even seen the Mustang. On the day the car was introduced, almost four million people went to Ford dealers to look at it. Ford soon found that it could not keep up with the huge and increasing demand.

There is little doubt that never before had there been such an intense, immediate identification by so many people with a vehicle. Their immediate involvement with the "wild Mustang" paralleled in some ways the animism in certain primitive tribes, which see inanimate objects like trees as possessing animate qualities. Letters from early buyers of the Mustang revealed even other connections. One woman wrote to the company to confide that the "Mustang is as exciting as sex." A woman from St. Louis maintained, "Yes, it is true that blondes have more fun; but now I'm convinced that blondes have more fun in a new Mustang." A massive "after-market" sprang up quickly, anxious to be part of the Mustang boom. The American Racing Equipment Company advertised its aluminum sport wheels with the headline: "Mustangs are meant to be wild. Don't tame them with ordinary wheels!"


Ford had an explanation of the overwhelmingly favorable verdict of the public. Lee Iacocca, the executive in charge of the Mustang project, cited his own pre-production analysis: "People would want this car because it offers them status at low cost ... because it satisfied in one package their need for basic transportation and their desire for comfort, style, handling, and a choice in performance capabilities," Ford's marketing manager, Frank Zimmerman, Jr., added some comments that Iacocca, as "father of the Mustang" could not make with modesty. Ford had been convinced, Mr. Zimmerman said, that the Mustang would have a stable market and would not be just a fad. He said that the car had an emotional appeal, that people reacted to it personally -- a kind of "Mustang spirit."

What Ford had produced, in fact, was the stylist's dream. The product planning committee, working closely with the stylists, had chosen the prototype and had approved the basic sheet metal and two body styles -- before it informed the development engineers at Ford. Sheet metal, glass, bumpers and moldings of the vehicle were new, while the chassis, engine, suspension and driveline components were copies of Ford's Falcon and the Fairlane models.


The goal of distinctiveness had been achieved in what Bordinat called "the battles of the inch," He gave as an example: "The close-fitting rear bumper was essential to the lithe and lovely look. Here the battle of dimensions was waged over fractions of an inch. If the gap between bumper and sheet metal had become an inch greater, the resultant effect would have detracted from the appearance of the entire vehicle," Other little differences that collectively made "all the difference" to Bordinat and his staff included simple lines with little ornamentation, single headlights, taillights with a vertical pattern, pointed fenders, slimmer bumpers, a small, cropped grill and "roll-under" to expose the wheels and tires for a more "gutty" look. The overall profile was as recognizable as the 1946 Studebaker-long, low hood, close-coupled passenger cabin, and a short rear deck.

After such a stylistic triumph there was little left for the engineer to do to the Mustang. The independent automobile evaluation magazine, Road Test, described the car as "a hoked-up Falcon with inadequate brakes, poor handling, and marvelous promotion." Their report, based on careful road testing, also said, "Like most American cars, the Mustang abounds with new and startling engineering features carried over from 1910." The magazine cited the "very bad" glare from windshield wiper arms and blades, and warned that its soft shock control could be dangerous on high speed diagonal railroad crossings, where the vehicle moves onto the road abruptly as the springs reach the limit of their travel. The magazine further described the Mustang as having "rear-axle hop and instability." Road Test advised Mustang owners, "With heavy duty suspensions the car is safer, but a severe ride penalty is paid, which would be unnecessary if some advertising dollars were spent for advanced, independent rear suspension."

Steve Wilder, an automobile expert, wrote an article for Car Life entitled, "Taming the Wild Mustang." In it he described the Mustang chassis as "the quintessence of what's generally wrong with American cars. It's a heavy-nosed blunderbuss with a teenage rear suspension." Among his dozens of indictments was this observation: "If you hit a bump heeled over, the suspension immediately bottoms out, the tire loses its already tenuous grip, and the Mustang jumps to the side like a frisky colt."

Neither the public appraisal, nor Ford's own explanation of its success, nor even the writings of automobile experts addressing the buffs take into account one piece of Mustang history. In January 1963, over a year before the Mustang made its public appearance, Mr. R. C. Lunn, a Ford engineer, delivered a technical paper to the Society of Automotive Engineers on the subject of an experimental model of the Mustang which was being displayed in various parts of the country. Mr. Lunn's comments were remarkably candid. They showed a glimpse of what the industry could do in the elementary stages of safety design. Lunn included references to the following features incorporated in the operational model: a "fail-safe" dual braking system, integrated headrests to prevent or minimize neck and spinal injuries, a roll-bar to strengthen the roof structure in the event of roll-overs, a steering column preventing rearward displacement into the driver during a front-end collision, a collapsible steering shaft, provision for shoulder harness and lap belts, strongly anchored seats, and bucket seats with lateral holding power. In the production-model Mustang which was introduced in April, 1964 (and of which nearly half a million were sold in twelve months) every one of these features had been eliminated.

A vast corporate effort, keyed to stylistic features, had built a new vehicle. The result was impressive brand-name recognition and soaring sales. The compromise in this achievement was that new or improved automotive engineering for safety once again took a back seat.


The Mustang is a classic case of styling imperatives superseding engineering development in the total concept of car design. But long before the Mustang's pyrotechnical introduction to the public, the stylists' control over the design of front- and rear-end appearance and exterior sheet metal created serious pedestrian hazards that never were permitted to fall within the concern of the engineers.

Senator Ribicoff raised the issue directly with Arjay Miller, president of Ford, during the 1965 Senate hearings on automobile safety. "Mr. Miller," he said, "one of the problems we have is the pedestrian. Very little has been said of the pedestrian. There are about 500,000 pedestrians injured; 8,000 pedestrians are killed every year. [1] Much of the injury and death is caused by sharp edges on automobiles-hood ornaments, fins-all these sharp features you have on cars. Do you ever take the pedestrian into account when you design automobiles?"

Mr. Miller replied, "Very definitely, Senator. I am on the styling committee and this question never fails to be raised before any styling is approved, and furthermore, it is in the knowledge of the stylists and the engineers at the time the vehicle is designed and styled."

The most charitable estimate that can be made of this statement is that it is utterly lacking in candor. If Senator Ribicoff had pointed out that his own Mustang -- even more than other Ford models -- had a hood edge that was sharp enough to act as a chopper, Mr. Miller might have had to face specific charges. He would not have been able to refer for defense of the Ford design to Gene Bordinat, Ford's chief stylist. In the October 1964 issue of Automotive Industries, Mr. Bordinat had approvingly described the Lincoln Continental's flush-mounted parking lights in the "leading edges of the blade-like front fenders."

The callousness of the stylists about the effects of their creations on pedestrians is seen clearly in the case of William Mitchell, chief stylist at General Motors and the principal creator of the Cadillac tail fin. This sharp, rising fin was first introduced in the late forties, soaring in height and prominence each year until it reached a grotesque peak in 1959 and gradually declining thereafter until it was finally eliminated in the 1966 models. To understand how a man could devise and promote such a potentially lethal protuberance, it is necessary to understand the enthusiasm of Mr. Mitchell, who frequently confides to interviewers that he has "gasoline in his blood." His vibrancy in conversation revolves around the concepts of "movement," "excitement,"' and "flair."' Samples of his recent statements are illustrative: "When you sat behind the wheel, you looked down that long hood, and then there Were two headlight shapes, and then two fender curves -- why, you felt excited just sitting there. A car should be exciting." Or, "Cars will be more clearly masculine or feminine," and "For now we deal with aesthetics ... that indefinable, intangible quality that makes all the difference." Mr. Mitchell's reported view of safety is that it is the driver's responsibility to avoid accidents, and that if cars were made crashworthy, the "nuts behind the wheel" would take even greater chances.

The world of Mr. Mitchell centers around the General Motors technical center, where in surroundings of lavish extravagance he presides over a staff of more than 1,400 styling specialists. It is a world of motion, color, contour, trim, fabric. To illustrate the degree of specialization involved, one color selector holds 2,888 metal samples of colors; glass- enclosed studios, surrounding verdant roof gardens, are specially designed so that colors may be matched under varying lighting conditions. In such an environment, it is easy for Mr. Mitchell to believe that "Eighty-five per cent of all the information we receive is visual." His two favorite sayings are, "Seeing is selling; and "The shape of things shape man."

The matter of Cadillac tail fins, however, transcends the visual world of Mr. Mitchell. Fins have been felt as well as seen, and felt fatally when not seen. In ways that should have been anticipated by Mr. Mitchell, these fins have "shaped" man.

In the year of its greatest height, the Cadillac fin bore an uncanny resemblance to the tail of the stegosaurus, a dinosaur that had two sharp rearward-projecting horns on each side of the tail. In 1964 a California motorcycle driver learned the dangers of the Cadillac tail fin. The cyclist was following a heavy line of traffic on the freeway going toward Newport Harbor in Santa Ana. As the four-lane road narrowed to two lanes, the confusion of highway construction and the swerving of vehicles in the merging traffic led to the Cadillac's sudden stop. The motorcyclist was boxed in and was unable to turn aside. He hit the rear bumper of the car at a speed of about twenty miles per hour, and was hurled into the tail fin, which pierced his body below the heart and cut him all the way down to the thigh bone in a large circular gash. Both fin and man survived this encounter.

The same was not true in the case of nine-year-old Peggy Swan. On September 29, 1963, she was riding her bicycle near her home in Kensington, Maryland. Coming down Kensington Boulevard she bumped into a parked car in a typical childhood accident. But the car was a 1962 Cadillac, and she hit the tail fin, which ripped into her body below the throat. She died at Holy Cross Hospital a few hours later of thoracic hemorrhage.

Almost a year and a half earlier, Henry Wakeland, the independent automotive engineer, had sent by registered mail a formal advisory to General Motors and its chief safety engineer, Howard Gandelot The letter was sent in the spirit of the Canons of Ethics for Engineers, and began with these words: "This letter is to insure that you as an engineer and the General Motors Corporation are advised of the hazard to pedestrians which exists in the sharp-pointed tail fins of recent production 1962 Cadillac automobiles and other recent models of Cadillacs. The ability of the sharp and pointed tail fins to cause injury when they contact a pedestrian is visually apparent" Wakeland gave details of two recent fatal cases that had come to his attention. In one instance, an old woman in New York City had been struck by a Cadillac which was rolling slowly backward after its power brakes failed. The blow of the tail Bu had killed her. In the other case, a thirteen- year-old Chicago boy, trying to catch a fly ball on a summer day in 1961, had run into a 1961 Cadillac fin, which pierced his heart.

Wakeland said, "An obviously apparent hazard should not be allowed to be included in an automobile because there are only a few circumstances under which the hazard would cause accident or injury. When any large number of automobiles which carry the hazard are in use, the circumstances which translate the hazard into accident or injury will eventually arise. Since it is technically possible to add [fins to automobiles] it is also technically possible to remove them, either before or after manufacture."

Howard Gandelot replied to Wakeland, saying that only a small number of pedestrian injuries due to fins or other ornamentation had come to the attention of General Motors, adding that there "always is a likelihood of the few unusual types of accidents."

The lack of complaints is a standard defense of the automobile companies when they are asked to explain hazardous design features. Certainly no company has urged the public to make com plaints about such injuries as described by Wakeland. Nor has any company tried to find out about these injuries either consistently or through a pilot study. Moreover, the truth of the statement that "very few complaints" are received by the automobile companies is a self- serving one that is not verifiable by any objective source or agency outside the companies. Also, it must be remembered that since there is no statistical reporting system on this kind of accident -- whether the system is sponsored by the government or the insurance industry -- there is no publicly available objective source of data concerning such accidents.

As an insider, Gandelot knew that the trend of Cadillac tail fin design was to lower the height of the fin. He included in his reply to Wakeland this "confidential information" about the forthcoming 1963 Cadillac: "The fins were lowered to bring them closer to the bumper and positioned a little farther forward so that the bumper face now affords more protection."

Gandelot's comment touches on an important practice. The introduction, promotion, and finally the "phasing out" of external hazards is purely a result of stylistic fashions. For example, a few years ago sharp and pointed horizontal hood ornaments were the fad. Recent models avoid these particular ornament designs, not for pedestrian safety but to conform to the new "clean look" that is the trademark of current styling. The deadly Cadillac tail fin has disappeared for the same reason. New styles bring new hazards or the return of old ones.

Systematic engineering design of the vehicle could minimize or prevent many pedestrian injuries. The majority of pedestrian-vehicle collisions produce injuries, not fatalities. Most of these collisions occur at impact speed of under twenty-five miles per hour, and New York City data show that in fatality cases about twenty-five per cent of the collisions occurred when the vehicles involved were moving at speeds below fourteen miles per hour. It seems quite obvious that the external design and not just the speed of the automobile contributes greatly to the severity of the injuries inflicted on the pedestrian. Yet the external design is so totally under the unfettered control of the stylist that no engineer employed by the automobile industry has ever delivered a technical paper concerning pedestrian collision. Nor have the automobile companies made any public mention of any crash testing or engineering safety research on the problem.

But two papers do exist in the technical literature, one by Henry Wakeland and the other by a group of engineers at the University of California in Los Angeles. Wakeland destroyed the lingering myth that when a pedestrian is struck by an automobile it does not make any difference which particular design feature hits him. He showed that heavy vehicles often strike people without causing fatality, and that even in fatal cases, the difference between life and death is often the difference between safe and unsafe design features. Wakeland's study was based on accident and autopsy reports of about 230 consecutive pedestrian fatalities occurring in Manhattan during 1958 and early 1959. In this sample, case after case showed the victim's body penetrated by ornaments, sharp bumper and fender edges, headlight hoods, medallions, and fins. He found that certain bumper configurations tended to force the adult pedestrian's body down, which of course greatly increased the risk of the cars running over him. Recent models, with bumpers shaped like sled runners and sloping grill work above the bumpers, which give the appearance of "leaning into the wind; increase even further the car's potential for exerting down-and-under pressures on the pedestrian.

The UCLA study, headed by Derwyn Severy, consisted of experimenting with dummies to produce force and deflection data on vehicle-pedestrian impacts. The conclusion was that "the front end geometry and resistance to deformation of a vehicle striking a pedestrian will have a major influence on the forced movement of the pedestrian following the impact" These design characteristics are considered crucial to the level of injury received, since subsequent contact with the pavement may be even more harmful than the initial impact. As additional designs for protections the Severy group recommends the use of sheet metal that collapses, greater bumper widths, and override guards to sweep away struck pedestrians from the front wheels.

If the automobile companies are seeking more complaints about the effects of styling in producing pedestrian hazards, they might well refer to a widely used textbook on preventive medicine written by Doctors Hilleboe and Larimore. Taking note of the many tragic examples of unnecessarily dangerous design, the results of which "are seen daily in surgical wards and autopsy tables," the authors concluded that "if one were to attempt to produce a pedestrian-injuring mechanism, one of the most theoretically efficient designs which might be developed would closely approach that of the front end of some present-day automobiles.


The ultimate evidence that the work of the stylist is anything but trivial is to be found in the effect styling bas had on the economic aspects of the automobile industry.

General Motors, which controls over fifty per cent of the automobile market, whenever it introduces and promotes a particular styling feature can compel the other companies to follow suit. The history of the wrap-around windshield, the tail fin, and the hard-top convertible confirms this point. For although the wraparound windshield created visual distortion that shocked the optometry profession, and the tail fin and hard-top designs engendered the dangers discussed earlier, every one of the other automobile companies followed the lead of General Motors in order not to be out of date.

Economists call this phenomenon "protective imitation," but under any name, following suit involved tremendous tooling costs, the curtailment of engineering diversity and innovation, and, most important, the wholesale adoption of features that were intended to please the eye of the driver rather than to protect his life.

George Romney, then the president of American Motors, described the situation aptly when he told the Kefauver Senate antitrust subcommittee in 1958, "It is just like a woman's hat. The automobile business has some of the elements of the millinery industry in it, in that you can make style become the hallmark of modernity ... A wrap-around windshield, through greater sums of money and greater domination of the market, can be identified as being more important than something that improves the whole automobile.... In an industry where style is a primary sales tool, public acceptance of a styling approach can be achieved by the sheer Impact of product volume."

Still the industry has persisted in declaring that it merely "gives the customer what he wants." This hardly squares with Mr. Romney's statement or with the facts. The history of every successful style feature is that it was conceived in one of the automobile company style sections -- often without reference to company engineers, let alone considerations of safety -- and then turned over to marketing specialists for repetitive, emotional exploitation until it was an entrenched, accepted "fashion."

Entrenched, that is, until the need to make the customer dissatisfied with that fashion sent the styling staffs back to their drawing boards. The principle that governs then is in direct contradiction to the give-them-what-they-want defense. In the words of Gene Bordinat of Ford, the stylist at work must "take the lead in establishing standards of taste." That, in fact, is what they have done.

The follow-the-leader spiral of styling Innovations has had other profound effects. One of the most important results is that by concentrating model "changes" in the area of styling, the manufacturers have focused consumer attention on those features of the automobile that are the most likely subject of "persuasive" rather than "informational" appeals. As in the fashion industry, dealing with emotions rather than dealing with the intellect has had the result that the car makers have rarely been threatened with consumer sovereignty over the automobile. On the contrary, car Manufacturers have exerted self-determined control over the products they offer. This control is reflected in another statement from Mr. Mitchell, who said, "One thing today is that we have more cars than we have names. Maybe the public doesn't want all these kinds, but competition makes it necessary."

The narrowing of the difference between automobiles to minor styling distinctions is not the only unhealthy result of the stylists' dominance. Even more discouraging has been the concomitant drying-up of engineering ingenuity. As the stylists have steadily risen to pre-eminence, the technological imagination of automotive engineers has slowed to a point where automobile company executives themselves have deplored the lack of innovation. Ford vice president Donald Frey recognized the problem clearly when he said in an address delivered in January 1964, "I believe that the amount of product innovation successfully introduced into the automobile is smaller today than in previous times and is still falling. The automatic transmission [adopted in 1939 on a mass-production basis] was the last major innovation of the industry."

The head of Mr. Frey's company, Henry Ford II, seemed troubled by the same question in his address to the same group. He said, "When you think of the enormous progress of science over the last two generations, it's astonishing to realize that there is very little about the basic principles of today's automobile that would seem strange and unfamiliar to the pioneers of our industry.... What we need even more than the refinement of old ideas is the ability to develop new ideas and put them to work."

Neither of these automobile executives, of course, makes the obvious connection that if an industry devotes its best efforts and its largest investment to styling concepts, it must follow that new ideas in engineering -- and safety -- will be tragically slow in coming.



1. Drs. James Goddard and William Haddon have estimated that at least four per cent of all vehicles, at some time during their use, strike and injure pedestrians.
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