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Safety Timeline

by Bob Sheaves

1955- James Dean killed in Porsche 956 Speedster-1997 analysis shows 55 mph was Dean's speed and the other driver caused the accident by crossing the center line on the California road.

1956- Robert McNamara and Ford introduces "Lifegard Design" - This was a marketing failure because people (customers) thought it made cars more unsafe.

1959- Congress calls Detroit "criminally negligent" in the high cost of lives
in auto accidents.

1964- Ralph Nader attacks GM and the Corvair in his book Unsafe at any Speed. DOT finds in a series of hearings that Nader's book is flawed and GM instigates private surveillance on Nader.

Ralph Nader successfully sued GM - which had not turned anything up - for harassment. John DeLorean wrote that the Corvair was indeed unsafe.
1964- Dr John Stapp and the USAF starts "crashing" live rocket powered sleds
in the New Mexico desert. He stopped in 1.4 sec from 660mph speed. With seat
belts and shoulder harnesses designed by the USAF, he is alive and only
stunned at this decelleration level. At the same time Volvo patented the 3
point harness assembly and "gave it" to the industry.

1967- NHTSA came into being by order of President Johnson. The UK drafts the
first mandatory belt use law - it lasts 2 months before repeal. 1983 is when it
is finally approved.

1974- "Richard Grimshaw vs Ford Motor Company"- the Pinto fuel tank issue. Ford estimated 180 people would burn to death at a cost of $50 million per year to Ford, and the $11-per-vehicle fix would have cost $138 million. Ford made a business decision and got slapped for it.

1974- GM first to install air bags and saved Dr Arnold Arms, the 1st person to
survive a crash. GM concerned children would be hurt and killed more with the

1984- US government stipulates air bags for all government purchases. Ford breaks with GM and Chrysler and starts complying.

1989- Chrysler makes airbags standard in all passenger cars.

1990- First child killed by an air bag - Kyle Lehman. Lawsuits start en masse.

1997- GM in San Diego demonstrates fly by computer-no driver control, the cause of most accidents. 7 Buick Le Sabres travel San Diego's adapted freeway at 95mph, 8 feet separating them.

The above are facts not open to debate. What happens in the future is.


J. Mutz pointed out that Chrysler had quite a few safety features from the start, though nowhere near what the post-Nader era brought:

  • 1924 Four-wheel hydraulic brakes (though Duesenberg had sold a hydraulic brake system in the past, it was not of the modern design and had only been used on a handful of vehicles.)
  • All-steel bodies - as standard across the line
  • 1940 Safety rim wheels (made blowouts much safer)
  • 1949 Electric windshield wipers (they had been pneumatic)
  • 1951 Disc brakes (1951 Imperial--quite a different design than today's disc brakes, they were called "spot" disc brakes. But they were still a non-drum, disc-type brake)
  • 1937 Safety interiors with soft armrests, recessed controls
  • 1949 Padded dashboard
  • 1967 Rear anti-lock brakes (Imperial)
  • 1971 Four wheel antilock brakes (Imperial)

Chrysler 1904-2018

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