UNSAFE AT ANY SPEED -- THE DESIGNED-IN DANGERS OF THE AMERICAN AUTOMOBILE
Chapter 7: The Traffic Safety Establishment: Damn the Driver and Spare the Car
"Roads, laws, and cars are inanimate of themselves. They cannot give-or-take-life. It is people who animate highway transportation; people who use the roads -- obey or do not obey the laws -- drive their cars carefully or carelessly." The speaker was H. E. Humphreys, Jr., chairman of the U. S. Rubber Company. In reiterating the basic creed of the private traffic safety movement, he bore down hard each time he said "people." Mr. Humphreys was addressing the tenth Highway Transportation Congress in Washington, D. C., in his capacity as chairman of the National Highway Users Conference, a lobby group. The date was May 6, 1964, but the words could have been uttered in 1924, the year this country's approach to highway safety was launched -- to become later an ideology guarded and perpetuated by a network of trade associations, tax exempt organizations, and other groups professing an interest in traffic safety.
In 1924, prompted by the United States Chamber of Commerce and the National Safety Council, Herbert Hoover -- then Secretary of Commerce -- called the first of two national conferences on street and highway safety. Out of these conferences, sponsored and financed by private funds, came a number of recommendations dealing with statistics, education, public relations, traffic control, and a model uniform vehicle code. Underlying all these efforts was the view that highways and vehicles were built about as well as could be expected under existing technology, and that traffic accidents were therefore traceable to willful, careless, irresponsible, or incompetent drivers. The problems of highway safety were considered essentially to be the result of the driver's behavior.
The 1924 and 1926 conferences were dominated by business leaders concerned about the tragic by-product of a new, fast-growing mode of transportation. "The three E's" -- Enforcement, Education, and Engineering -- became the slogan for a "balanced" traffic safety program. It was not long before the public was given to understand that "Enforcement" and "Education" meant the motorist, while "Engineering" meant the highway. The only reference to the vehicle itself pertained to its maintenance by the owner and the desirability of periodic inspection. In the subsequent decade, vehicle design was not an issue, apart from the insistent pleas and writings of a Detroit physician, Dr. Claire Straith, and a few critical insurance men.
During the 1930's the automobile death toll was the subject of some dramatic journalism, the most noteworthy being J. C. Furnas's article "And Sudden Death," which appeared in the October 1935 issue of the Reader's Digest. Millions of reprints of Furnas's piece were circulated which helped to generate public demands that "something be done." In the same year, the Detroit News called on the manufacturers to participate more actively in encouraging safer driving. The National Safety Council approached the automobile industry for financial support of several traffic accident prevention projects. In June 1936, Congress requested that the Bureau of Public Roads (then a part of the Department of Agriculture) make a survey of motor vehicle traffic conditions. The growing demand for action was not lost upon the alert leaders of the automobile industry. The move of events suggested that it was in order for them to take a forceful role in encouraging safer use of automobiles. A pattern of financing and guiding the major voluntary organizations concerned with the subject was established, and continues to the present day.
In January 1936 the Automobile Manufacturers Association announced with fanfare that It would contribute about $450,000 a year for traffic safety activities. That year, grants were awarded to the American Automobile Association, the American Legion, the General Federation of Women's Clubs, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the National Congress of Parents and Teachers, the National Safety Council, and the National Grange-all for various projects in education, enforcement, and "public support" activities. Three months later, an Automobile Manufacturers Association committee assured the Secretary of Commerce: "The motor industry recognizes its obligation to produce the safest vehicle human ingenuity can devise, and dedicates every laboratory and engineering resource of the industry to that purpose. In addition, the industry is pledged to cooperate with public officials in their efforts to curb accidents. Further, it has, by direct grants of money, energized the expansion of highway safety activities of nine national organizations." It was not long before the automobile industry decided to associate its traffic safety activities with a less obviously commercially tainted organization, and it established the Automotive Safety Foundation in June 1937.
In 1938 the Bureau of Public Roads submitted a six-part report to Congress. This report was written with the help of a business and academic advisory committee and covered the need for better investigation at the accident scene, the deficiencies of state automobile accident reporting, the importance of vehicle inspection, the lack of uniformity in state laws, and the "accident-prone" driver. Nothing was said about vehicle design and construction. What makes the report noteworthy is that present-day programs display no advance in quality and are applied with an extraordinary emphasis on driver behavior -- which is almost always considered apart from vehicle and highway.
Today almost every program is aimed at the driver -- at educating him, exhorting him, watching him, judging him, punishing him, compiling records about his driving violations, and organizing him in citizen support activities. Resources and energy are directed into programs of enforcement, traffic laws, driver education, driver licensing, traffic courts, and vehicle inspection. The reasoning behind this philosophy of safety can be summarized in this way: Most accidents are in the class of driver fault; driver fault is in the class of violated traffic laws; therefore, observance of traffic laws by drivers would eliminate most accidents.
The prevailing view of traffic safety is much more a political strategy to defend special interests than it is an empirical program to save lives and prevent injuries. For "traffic safety" is not just an abstract value to which lip service is paid. In the automobile industry, safety could represent an investment in research, a priority in production design and manufacturing, and a theme of marketing policy. But under existing business values potential safety advances are subordinated to other investments, priorities, preferences, and themes designed to maximize profit. Industry insists on maintaining the freedom to rank safety anywhere it pleases on its list of commercial considerations. In the protection of these considerations the industry supports and fosters the traffic safety policy focused on driver behavior; through lobbying and other close relations with state and municipal administrators the efforts of the automobile manufacturers have resulted not only in the perpetuation of that policy but also in some side effects which help the industry preserve its exclusive control over vehicle design.
For one thing, a driver-oriented traffic safety program does not disrupt the traditional state jurisdiction over traffic safety matters. The industry has worked for many years to maintain state control against any "encroachments" or "interventions" by the federal government. Should the federal government become involved, it might upset the time- tested accommodation which the industry has developed with state administrators and legislators. The saying among automobile men is: "We know the state tiger and what it likes to eat." The federal government might want to see for itself whether the vehicle was really as innocent as automobile publicists have vigorously proclaimed.
Another advantage to the industry in seeing traffic safety in terms of driver responsibility is that the law bas developed in conformity with this emphasis. Thus damage or injury in automobiles is attributed, by definition, to some legal violation by the driver. Traffic laws prescribe how people shall behave so as to avoid accidents on streets and highways. These rules are quite specific, such as those about overtaking or passing a school bus. But there are also general provisions prohibiting "reckless driving" or "driving so as to endanger," which cover almost any situation that is not explicitly cited. Therefore the contributing factors stemming from the vehicle's design can be imputed to the driver. The law embodies an invincible rationale: "He had an accident; therefore, he violated the law." No distinction is made between responsibility for the accident and responsibility for the injury due to unsafe vehicle design or construction. Manslaughter charges are med routinely against drivers; there is yet to be recorded any similar charges against the manufacturers for vehicle defects. The statutes make no provision for including the manufacturer in traffic accident criminal penalties, and it is a rare prosecutor who would proceed against an automobile maker on common-law principles.
Laws that do not adequately reflect reality have predictably distorting consequences. It is to be expected that laws exclusively centered on the motorist will profoundly affect the kind of accident investigation, accident reporting, and insurance rating policy that develops. Accidents are investigated principally by police and investigators representing claimants and insurance companies. The primary purpose of police fact-gathering at the accident scene is to enforce the law, so the policeman's common assumption is driver responsibility. A typical police traffic accident report bas a list of "contributing circumstances" which the officer is to check off: "Speed too fast; failed to yield right of way; drove left of center; improper overtaking; passed stop sign; ran traffic signal; improper lights; had been drinking; and other improper driving." All of these are violations of the law by motorists. No distinction is drawn between the behavior of the driver and the behavior of the vehicle. Insofar as the law is violated, they are one. Thus the driver is heir to all the dangers created by the automobile designers, not only in terms of his bodily exposure but also in terms of legal exposure. The result of this drastic imbalance in the law is the very poor quality of accident investigation in this country. There is great pressure on the police officer to cut his investigation short in order to clear away the damaged car or cars and get traffic moving. He finds little incentive to probe beyond the facile explanation of the accident offered by the catchall categories of driver error on the accident report form. The law does not encourage or provide for conscientious investigation. Consequently enforcement of the law brings no pressure on the car makers to increase the safety of vehicles.
The way traffic law is written and enforced also affects automobile insurance and claims investigation. Civil actions are brought in court on the basis of driver-to-driver or driver-to-passenger confrontations, with police reports and sometimes criminal proceedings (which usually are completed before civil actions come to trial) serving as principal tools of conflict. Since insurance company payments for damage claims are predicated on driver responsibility, insurance rates are almost exclusively based on differences in drivers-accident experience, use of the car, sex, age, marital status, place of residence, and the number of drivers in the family. Were manufacturers made more responsible by law for vehicle behavior in accident and injury causation, the entire actuarial and investigatory apparatus would be forced to consider vehicle engineering factors as an integral part of investigation.
Investigation stops with the driver in the vast majority of cases because our statutes ascribe all responsibilities to the driver. It is legal responsibility that forms the basis for compensation payments. Often, when the responsible agent is missing -- in cases where there is no other driver, or the other driver is not financially responsible -- the most thorough engineering investigations of the vehicle are conducted. Claims against the manufacturer for unsafe design or construction are obliged to proceed on the basis of the common law derived from the heritage of court decisions, not on statutes. The only statute law covering the vehicle simply requires certain basic automotive equipment such as brakes, windshield wipers, directional signals, and lighting systems.
Accident reporting and statistics also reflect the law's emphasis. A major purpose of accident reports is to lay the basis for preventive action, as well as to measure the effect of past accident-prevention efforts. Since the law ignores the cause of injury and concentrates on the cause of accident in terms of driver error, accident reports adhere to this outline. The statistics compiled inevitably emphasize the same point, as exemplified by the National Safety Council's annual proclamation that ninety per cent of all accidents are due to improper driving. To the extent that statistics outline problems, guide remedial action, and inspire or deter public authorities, vehicle design in such a statistical climate is not likely to come in for much attention. It is significant that the special Cornell accident-injury reporting forms request information not required by law -- information which is having important consequences in emphasizing the role of vehicle engineering.
The automobile makers have played an important role in the development of traffic law beyond their conventional advocacy at state legislatures. The industry's presence on the membership roll of the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Laws and Ordinances (NCUTLO) is an impressive display of how automobile companies and their trade associations and front organizations can saturate an organization. The financial and advisory support given the NCUTLO -- which produces a periodically revised Uniform Motor Vehicle Code as a "Guide for State Motor Vehicle Laws" -- is not without results. The code is a place for implementing the automotive lobby's determination to achieve uniformity in vehicle equipment laws throughout the fifty states, without the supervision of the federal government. While the code embraces sound and well-expressed provisions, the attention given the vehicle is an abuse of the integrity which the drafting of model laws has generally attained in the United States. The code is composed of nineteen chapters totaling 194 pages. It is designed as a comprehensive set of motor vehicle laws covering administration, licensing, financial responsibility, and other subjects. Thirty-nine pages are devoted to equipment, inspection, and the size, weight, and load of vehicles.
The provisions of these pages could not have been more solicitous of the manufacturers. Although the code is described by its authors as offering "a sound legal framework within which effective safety programs can be carried out" to "the ultimate service of highway users," not a single provision deals with any vehicle design features prominently associated with injuries suffered in an accident. Although two pages are devoted to rules governing pedestrian behavior, the code has no reference to protruding ornaments and other pedestrian hazards, as do similar statutes in Switzerland and other European nations. The vehicle equipment provisions cover only lighting equipment, brakes, horns, mufflers, mirrors, windshield wipers, Hares, air conditioning equipment, but the code does not establish standards for the operating and crash safety of the basic vehicle structure. Where applicable, the language provides for adherence to standards established by the Society of Automotive Engineers. Performance levels for items such as brakes are written into the code and are well within the limits of existing designs.
The Chapter called "Inspection of Vehicles" recommends the use of the American Standards Association Code D7 On inspection requirements for motor vehicles. Code D7 was written by the automobile industry. The object of D7 is to provide the states with a checklist that will bring the operational adequacy of inspected vehicles somewhere near the level of the vehicles when they left the dealers' showrooms.
The legal structure for traffic safety that exempts motor vehicle design and quality from its purview -- the only transport vehicle so exempted -- has not come about haphazardly. Its evolution has been shaped by a political and propaganda machine directed by the traffic safety establishment. This establishment is not a conspiracy; it does not have to be. As the only organized constituency in traffic safety, one which represents the interests of the automotive and allied industries, it has been more like a great power with no challengers. By championing driver safety and resistance to federal "encroachment," and by providing funds to "sound" recipients, the establishment has enlisted the support or understanding of state and local officials and of volunteer groups and workers.
The dreary quality of traffic safety activities throughout the country year after year can be attributed to the impressive efficiency in the administration of the establishment's ideology. There are no autocratic impositions involved. The practice of going along with industry's way is simply a pleasant way of getting by. There are neither tangible incentives nor countering stimuli to do things in any other way.
An estimated nine million dollars a year is spent by nongovernment organizations and citizen traffic safety councils on national, state, and local levels. Out of this sum, about $4.2 million is expended by state and local safety councils accredited to the National Safety Council and supported chiefly by local business contributors. After subtracting the $2.6 million devoted by the National Safety Council to traffic safety services, the remaining $2.2 million goes for the most part to support the traffic safety activities of the so-called national service organizations. The automotive and insurance industries finance almost all the traffic safety work of these service groups -- chiefly, the Auto Industries Highway Committee, the American Association of Motor Vehicles Administrators, the American Bar Association, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the National Commission on Safety Education (of the National Educational Association), and the National Committee on Uniform Laws and Ordinances. Together with the American Automobile Association, which is self-financing; these are the organizations which the National Safety Council describes as "the groups that stimulate public support for traffic safety programs."
The two key sources of funds for these groups are the Automotive Safety Foundation and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, both tax-exempt organizations.
The Automotive Safety Foundation (ASF) was founded in June 1937 by four automobile executives. For five years, the Automobile Manufacturers Association contributed all the funds for ASF, but increasingly the AMA has broadened the financial support to include contributions from companies dealing in petroleum, rubber tires, automobile finance, advertising, magazines, glass, steel, as well as from banks, automobile and tire dealers, and asphalt and cement companies and associations. This has been done through a highly successful fund-matching system that not only helps to commit these groups to ASFs mission but also saves the Automobile Manufacturers Association money while it enlarges the total funds over which the AMA possesses complete policy control. In 1963 the AMA contributed half ($764,086) of ASFs income of $1,528,173, which has been roughly the level of the foundation's income for the past few years.
The Automotive Safety Foundation's accomplishment in promoting the automobile industry's traffic safety objective far exceeds what might be expected of such modest finances. Contrary to what its name might imply, the Automotive Safety Foundation has no concern fur the automobile per se; except that it be driven better, maintained properly, and provided with more highways and off-street parking. A recent ASF publication echoes Mr. Humphreys of the U.S. Rubber Company: "Being inanimate, no car, truck or bus can by itself cause an accident any more than a street or highway can do so. A driver is needed to put it into motion -- after which it becomes an extension of his will."
From its very beginning the ASF has been a policy-oriented organization. One of its first projects was the Standard Highway Safety Program for States, which erected two cornerstones for the private traffic movement -- a "balanced program" for accident prevention, and the necessity for official responsibility by state and local officials backed with organized citizen support groups. With refinement and expansion by ASF and other automobile representatives, this program in 1946 was changed to the Action Program for Traffic Safety, which continues to be the blueprint for concerted activity.
The president of the Automotive Safety Foundation, Joseph Mattson, and his assistants maintain close contact with federal officials. ASF headquarters appear to be in Washington primarily to see that Washington does as little as possible in traffic safety beyond that of supporting the "time-tested" state activities. The ASF has various opportunities for observing, influencing, or deterring action in the executive branch. One is its joint financial sponsorship of research projects and conferences with such agencies as the Public Health Service and the Bureau of Public Roads. Through such cooperation the ASF helps guide federal attention away from vehicle design and its relation to deaths and injuries. This kind of cooperation also ingratiates the ASF with some federal administrators who can stretch department budgets to hold more conferences. The mixing of private and public funds and personnel is a recurrent practice of the traffic safety establishment and assures the participation of industry people directly in official programs. The ASF also has often graduated its employees into positions in the Bureau of Public Roads.
Mattson has found his way onto the advisory committee to the U.S. Public Health Service's Division of Accident Prevention in spite of his lack of scientific qualifications to advise the division on its scientific work. The advisory committee to the division is supposed to represent experts, not interest groups. In the Bureau of Public Roads, Mattson is viewed as the veteran spokesman for the automobile industry on traffic safety and as the figure who dominates the President's Committee for Traffic Safety. For ten years Mattson was head of the executive committee of the advisory council to the President's committee. In this capacity, he selected the executive director of the committee, William Foulis, who had been Mattson's employee at the Automotive Safety Foundation. In 1965 Mattson relinquished his committee post to Howard Pyle of the National Safety Council, but no one interpreted this as any diminution of his influence. Behind his retiring, easygoing manner, he remains a person to be reckoned with by the Bureau of Public Roads and its Office of Highway Safety, even in preliminary consideration of traffic safety policy.
Mattson has long been the chief figure among staffs of the private traffic safety groups that are congregated in one section of Washington. Whatever discomfort his influence bas caused others in the movement has not been made public. His conciliatory skills and his why-stir-things-up type of appeal bas succeeded in maintaining a solid consensus within the establishment on all major issues.
Financial data concerning the Automotive Safety Foundation give some indication of the variety of unofficial missions expected of it by the automobile industry in addition to the processing and awarding of grants. A typical year was 1963, when ASF reported contributions totaling $1,528,173, of which $692,890 was disbursed as grants. The expense of distributing this amount was reported to total $826,148, which included $517,603 for salaries and wages; a lump sum of $259,474 was listed under "miscellaneous expenses." That year, the foundation neglected to report officers' salaries individually to the Internal Revenue Service. But in 1962, when they did provide these figures, Mattson received $45,517, and two vice presidents were paid $27,700 and $26,183, plus full reimbursement for expenses. Thus, the compensation of the three top officers alone amounted to one-eighth of the funds disbursed and one-fifteenth of ASF's annual income. This unique foundation spent almost $1.20 on "administration" for every dollar it disbursed in grants.
A 1947 document put out by the foundation gave an indication of how diverse its interests were even at that early date:
At the present the Automotive Safety Foundation awards grants, most of them on an annual basis, to about thirty groups, including the American Association of Industrial Editors, the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, the American Bar Association, the American Municipal Association, the Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges, the General Federation of Women's Clubs, the Highway Research Board, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the National Association of County Engineers, the National Commission on Safety Education, the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Laws and Ordinances, the National Grange, the National Safety Council, the National Congress of Parents and Teachers, the Northwestern University Traffic Institute, the Yale University Bureau of Highway Traffic, and some dozen other universities for small research projects or fellowships. Even those grants under $10,000 are of considerable consequence to the recipients because of the absence of other backing, either from public or private sources. The fellowships cover a number of subjects concerning highway safety, but never the vehicle itself. The foundation also administers the Alfred P. Sloan Radio and Television Awards for Highway Safety, which go to various radio and television stations throughout the country for constructive programming.
One of the ASF's largest annual grants -- about $140,000 -- goes to form almost the entire support of the Auto Industries Highway Safety Committee (AIHSC), another tax-exempt organization. A project of which AIHSC is especially proud was the distribution of over six million "Man-to-Man and Dad-to-Daughter Good Driver Agreements." These were voluntary pledges signed by father and son or father and daughter wherein the children agreed to drive the family car safely.
AIHSC's principal activity is promoting vehicle inspection, high school driver education, safe holiday travel, adequate off- street parking facilities and better highways, and teen-age traffic safety conferences. These objectives are pursued, AIHSC says, "through contacts with officials charged with the responsibility of public safety on the nation's streets and highways, as well as organizations actively engaged in traffic safety work," and by "serving on national policy-setting committees such as the Advisory Council to the President's Committee for Traffic Safety."
In the automobile insurance industry, the counterpart organization to the Automotive Safety Foundation is the tax-exempt Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). It was established in 1959 to bring together under one roof the scattered traffic safety efforts of the Association of Casualty and Surety Companies, the National Association of Automotive Mutual Insurance Companies, and the National Association of Independent Insurers. These three groups represent about five hundred insurance companies.
The traffic safety attitude of IIHS closely parallels that of ASF. For example, in January 1963 IIHS released this explanation of the record traffic accident toll in 1962: "The American public is not supporting the application of the Highway Safety Action Program, the blueprint recognized by traffic experts throughout the country. Officials are not administering the laws and regulations to the extent necessary to reduce traffic accidents. Dangerous confusion exists because of the lack of uniformity of traffic laws and traffic control devices."
IIHS president Russell Brown says that an additional five hundred million dollars of state and local funds are needed annually to support existing programs on a much greater scale and to augment the private budgets of the national service organizations. But neither he nor his organizations literature mentions vehicle design. The issue which appears to motivate the programs financed by IIHS and which makes it so cooperative with automobile industry interests is the threat of federal incursions into state jurisdiction over traffic safety. In almost every address Brown delivers the point is made, sometimes with constitutional embellishments: "In the management of our vast highway transportation system, public policy. must be based on the premise that sovereignty rests with state governments, and that federal and local governments only have those rights that are given to them by sovereign states. Therefore, the focal point for all highway traffic control and safety activities is the state."
The institute's grants are fully consistent with this belief. With a budget totaling $1.7 million in 1964, IIHS provides grants to most of the service organizations funded by ASF, including the National Safety Council, the American Bar Association, and the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators.
It also provides assistance to state traffic safety programs, after soliciting a formal request by the governor. This aid takes the form of working with officials in developing safety programs and familiarizing them with other services available through the private traffic safety organizations. Direct financial support to state citizen traffic safety groups is the third activity of IIHS. In 1964, funds were allotted to ten such bodies, including the California Traffic Safety Foundation, the Missouri Safety Council, the New York State Citizens Council on Traffic Safety, and the Texas Safety Association. It is IIHS policy to encourage formation of these citizen units in all states to "influence personal behavior in traffic and create and express public support for official programs."
Plainly, insurance companies would seem to have every incentive to advocate measures for the prevention of loss in order to increase their underwriting profits. Insurance company engineers and inspectors routinely file reports to their superiors recommending as a condition of policy coverage the elimination of hazards on ships, in factories, and at construction sites. The work of the underwriter's laboratories in testing, inspecting, evaluating, and listing manufacturers' products with respect to their safety (especially electrical and fire-prevention equipment), indicates that companies take loss prevention seriously. In addition, premium rates usually have covered the entire risk situation in man-machine situations. Thus, for example, higher rates for fire coverage on factories with less than desirable conditions add an economic incentive for policy-holders to achieve safer conditions.
In automobile insurance, the roles are different. Loss prevention and rate policy deal with the driver and avoid the automobile. Except for the discount for compact cars -- a puzzling actuarial decision in light of their injury record -- neither rating bureaus nor the large independent casualty underwriters have ever filed for approval by state insurance regulatory agencies any rating system covering various design features of automobiles.
For many years the insurance industry has known about and been disturbed by the role of unsafe vehicle design in producing accidents and injuries. Their files contain a secret horde of detailed accident investigations pin-pointing design and construction hazards on particular models that caused deaths and injuries. There are instances where a company, after paying off a claim, has demanded in turn compensation from the offending automobile manufacturer and has obtained a confidential settlement. None of this vehicle design data has ever been publicly reported either by an individual underwriter or on an industry-wide basis. Contrary to every decent tradition of the casualty insurers (going back as far as their design and construction of lighthouses and lifeboats in the early days of the Lloyds group in England), information of life-saving import, which connects vehicle features with statistically or clinically significant accident and injury experience, is being denied to the public, to the companies' own policy-holders, and to the industry's actuaries who could devise a vehicle-rating policy aimed at loss reduction. The same modem data-processing equipment used increasingly to refine the rating of drivers could be applied to the rating of vehicles.
During the past two years, several insurance company executives have commented in public about rising damage claims and the role of excessively powered vehicles. Articles in the industry trade publication, The National Underwriter, have called for an insurance rating structure for automobiles which reflects the relative safety of their design, as is done for factory and other transportation risks. All these statements are more indicative of the casualty industry's knowledge and concern about unsafe vehicle design than they are of its intention to do anything about that design.
This mixed attitude of worry and inaction is of many years' standing. In 1937 an editor of a monthly journal for casualty underwriters, Safety Engineering, studied some insurance company accident investigations made available to him and over a two-year period wrote a remarkable series of fifteen articles entitled "Make the Automobile Safer." Each article was devoted to a common vehicle design hazard. The editor emphasized the "second collision" and unnecessary dangers to pedestrians. For three years, Safety Engineering even graded the new automobiles by name, rating them on the basis of injury-producing hazards. The editor, Harry Armand, wrote: "A building contractor realizes that tools and brick can fall from great heights, and he guards against possible injury by providing employees with protective headgear to minimize the effects of a possible accident, in addition to protective canopies and scaffolding to safeguard the public. This principle of 'preparing for the inevitable' should be the guiding factor in automobile design. The motor industry must face the fact that accidents occur. It is their duty, therefore, to so design the interior of automobiles that when the passenger is tossed around, he will get an even break and not suffer a preventable injury. It is not beyond the realm of reason to expect that in an interior designed for perfect safety a passenger may experience no more than a shaking up in many kinds of accidents that today are taking a heavy toll in life and limb."
Since those words were written, over a million Americans have been killed and an estimated eighty-five million injured. Harry Armand, still at his job, noted in 1964 that many of the hazards he described in the thirties still persist in one form or another in today's automobiles. Yet the insurance industry continues to treat the automobile as off-limits and restricts its public service to pamphlets published under such catchy titles as "Maim Street" and "Rushin Roulette," containing cartoons of driver carelessness.
The insurance trade associations are equally reticent. In March 1963 the motor vehicle bulletin of the Association of Casualty and Surety Companies noted that the "parking brake" of many new automobiles might appear firmly set but still allow rolling backwards freely. The association added that this could be especially dangerous if a driver parks his car in the family driveway, many of which slope. It explained that this hazard arises because of recent changes in the design of parking and emergency brake systems in nearly all passenger ears and in many light trucks. If the parking brake is set without the simultaneous application of the hydraulic service (foot) brakes, it noted, the bottom of the brake shoes are brought into contact with the drums on the rear wheels, but the shoes are not folly engaged. With the parking brake in this position, the association said, the car cannot roll forward, but it can move freely to the rear. If, on the other hand, the motorist is pressing his foot on the hydraulic brake while he is setting the parking brake, the shoe and drum engage completely and the car will not move.
What did the association recommend? It urged the reader of this limited-circulation bulletin to get into the habit of applying the foot brake while he set the parking brake. "No problem can occur if a driver trains himself to do this," was the advice. Having told the reader how to adjust to a dangerous design, the association saw its task completed. It did not name the models which possessed such a hazard; it did not demand that the manufacturers change the design on future models and correct existing models; it did not notify appropriate state and federal officials, in spite of its knowledge of casualties proceeding from this hazard.
The deep-rooted reluctance of automobile insurers to take action is clearly demonstrated by the experience of Liberty Mutual Insurance Company-the only insurer to show concrete interest in vehicle design research. Between 1952 and 1961 Liberty Mutual developed and constructed two prototype safety ears called Survival Car I and Survival Car II. Working initially with the late Edward Dye at the Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory, Liberty Mutual's chief engineer, Frank Crandell, produced Survival Car I in 1957. This car was a non-operational vehicle featuring sixty safety design innovations, the combined purpose of which was to permit passengers to walk away from head-on collisions that had occurred at speeds up to forty miles per hour. In 1961, four models of Survival Car II were displayed. To show the feasibility of safety improvements within conventional production-line automobiles, Crandell used regular 1960 four-door Chevrolets. Based on his company's accident-injury investigations and forty crash tests, he built twenty-four major design features into these modified Chevrolets. The features included specially constructed "capsule seats" designed to stay moored on impact and protect the passenger from rear-end and side collisions. In addition to a safer steering assembly providing collision protection, improved maneuverability, and greater visibility, there was a fail-safe braking system, an automatic fire control system, a roll-over bar, safer windshields, and a smooth hood to reduce the severity of pedestrian injury.
Liberty Mutual no longer does any work in vehicle design. It considers its ten-year project, which cost $350,000, completed. Company management has no intention of openly criticizing the automobile makers. President Bryan Smith closed the program with the statement: "In sponsoring the reconstruction and design of this completely functional passenger car solely for safety, our hope is that it will stimulate the forces already at work producing safer automobiles." That an insurance company had to produce the first prototype safety car itself constituted a stinging rebuke to the automobile makers. But Smith refused to draw the obvious conclusions and refused to follow through on Crandell's findings and make the project meaningful beyond that of building the company's reputation.
Predictably, the automobile industry's reaction to Liberty Mutual's prototypes was hostile. According to Frank Crandell, he was viewed by the industry as an enemy until 1962 when some communication was established with Ford. He saw some of his designs reflected in eight safety features that graced the experimental Mustang in 1963 and was severely disappointed to see all of them dropped when the car went into actual production.
If the automobile industry's reaction was hostile, the casualty insurance industry's was one of indifference. It did not see any policy-making significance, either private or public, in Liberty's promising engineering work on safer automobile design. Nor did it view the prototypes as stimulants for further research into injury prevention during collisions. There are three major reasons for this fundamental default by the insurance industry. First, the pressure of material self-interest is sharply diminished by the companies' ability to obtain approval from state regulators for higher insurance rates to cover higher loss experiences. Since the ceiling for rates can be raised as the level of claims payments rises, the monetary incentive to reduce the causes of deaths and injuries in automobile accidents by advocating safer vehicles is reduced. Moreover, the profits of the casualty industry now come much more from investment income than from earned premiums. Between 1959 and 1963, for example, the casualty industry had an underwriting profit of $1.38 billion and a net investment income of $4.01 billion. The higher the volume of prepaid insurance premiums, the more funds are available to produce investment income. The second reason for default by the insurance industry is that the automobile manufacturers and their ancillary industries represent important customers for casualty insurers. The third and most important reason is the unwritten law that large business groups never attack one another over a fundamental issue publicly unless they see their survival at stake. A determined and unilateral program by underwriters for safer automobiles would strike the automobile industry at its most sensitive level -- that of marketing strategy and possible exposure to government regulation. The consequences of such an upheaval would be likely to unleash forces for change in more than one direction -- forces beyond the control of both industries. Marketing freedom and minimum government control are very important to the insurance industry as well as to the automobile industry. But government control is not the only inhibition the insurance companies might feel. General Motors keeps a small automobile insurance subsidiary as a reminder that the underwriters are not immune from a possibly devastating competitive program with impressive distribution outlets through automobile dealers.
In addition, the view in insurance circles is that any radical change in the country's perspective on traffic safety will inevitably mean a. larger role for the federal government. Insurance companies have learned how to handle state insurance commissioners, and the prospect of any federal attention to their business alarms them greatly. Even a bill by Congressman Kenneth Roberts to establish a national accident prevention research center was attacked in 1964 by insurance people as a move toward monopoly control over the discovery and dissemination of research information and as a costly effort that would duplicate the one now being satisfactorily performed by employers, insurance companies, trade associations, and safety organizations like the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the National Safety Council.
The most candid commentary on the insurance companies' attitude toward the automobile makers came from Leonard McEnnis, Jr., director of public relations for the IIHS, who said, "They don't want us telling them how to build autos and we don't want them telling us how to sell insurance."
Another instance of surprising default is the inaction of the American Automobile Association (AAA). With clubs in every state and a total membership of nine million motorists, AAA is by far the largest representative of automobile drivers. But however vigorous it may be in fighting highway tolls, unfair motor vehicle taxes, and other pocketbook threats to its membership, its position on automobile design has until recently been altogether one of curtsying whenever the automobile industry nodded. AAA has produced the usual brochures and reflected the accepted traffic safety views. Since the thirties it has singled out pedestrian protection as a special AAA program, but it has carefully excluded from its concern external vehicle design hazards such as protruding ornaments and sharp edges and points.
Closely tied to AAA's Washington headquarters is the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety whose major activity is supporting safety film productions. It also grants $35,000 a year to serious research on driver behavior by Dr. James Malfetti at Columbia University.
AAA is a state-oriented organization. Member clubs finance national headquarters and establish the policies of the national organization. Traditionally, AAA and member clubs have strongly backed exclusive state jurisdiction over traffic safety, placing AAA in full accord with other private safety groups. Until 1961, AAA had not taken a determined position on vehicle design and safety beyond occasional denunciations of braking performance and tire failure. In that year, AAA passed a weak resolution urging the manufacturers to build more safety into their vehicles so as to reduce "the severity of injury to operators and passengers involved in auto accidents." The following year for the first time in AAA history a state club got serious. Led by Robert Kretsch mar and Richard Hoover, the Massachusetts AAA was instrumental in having introduced in the legislature a state bill that would establish a special commission to draft a code of minimum safety standards for the construction of motor vehicles. The bill listed forty-five design features for the proposed commission's consideration. Mark Bauer, the mobile eastern field representative for the Automobile Manufacturers Association, paraded his lobbying skills before his old legislative committee friends who had the bill before them. In 1963, shortly before the hearing on the bill, a special trip to Detroit for the committee was arranged, with all expenses paid. The hill has never gotten out of committee.
Kretschmar and Hoover pressed further. With the support of the New York AAA, they persuaded the Eastern Conference of AAA Motor Clubs to adopt their position for safer vehicles at the annual meeting in the fall of 1963. It was also decided that the American Automobile Association Foundation for Traffic Safety would finance a project to investigate vehicle hazards and develop standards that could be embodied into law.
On January 22, 1964, Kretschmar delivered an address in New York City accusing the automobile industry of "putting up organized resistance against making cars safer." He pointed out that in the past the manufacturers opposed putting on all cars such equipment as stop lights, directional signals, and windshield wipers until, after years of delay, legislation compelled them to do so. "Safety glass was legislated into cars literally window by window, starting in Massachusetts," he declared. In urging complete safety standards, he cited the results of a Massachusetts state investigation that showed that "the 1963 models of two brands of cars develop steering weakness after about 20,000 miles of use."
In June 1964, the New York AAA's safety director, Charles Murphy, told the Pennsylvania AAA club: "We must try to change the image carefully cultivated over the years of the motorist as the fellow responsible for eighty-five to ninety per cent of the accidents. I look forward to the results of the massive research job being undertaken by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety on this entire question. And I am sure it will be revealing and will lead to constructive public consideration to which manufacturers must eventually respond."
This was the small progressive wing of the AAA speaking. The old guard, especially those in Washington, opposed such a research job but not because of insufficient funds. The AAA Foundation, which receives about $165,000 yearly from AAA clubs, has a substantial financial surplus each year. As of mid-1965, no action had been initiated concerning this projected study.
The national AM, along with most AAA state clubs, has long maintained close relationships with automobile industry personnel. In the thirties and forties AAA received safety grants from the industry. Commanding positions in AAA club membership are held by employees of automobile companies, suppliers, and automobile dealers. When in early 1964 the Michigan Automobile Club released a fifteen-point plan that included a statement urging the manufacturers to "give increasing attention to design and production of features which make cars safer to drive," automobile industry publicists were angered at not being sent a draft for advance clearance. Out-of-state AAA observers conceded that the Michigan club's unilateral move was a bit bold, considering the state in which it is lodged. These observers add that it is quite understandable why the club has maintained a complete silence since its "indiscretion."
Automobile men cultivate the AAA since the clubs make good impressions before state legislative committees. The industry and AAA find that they share common interests. Among these are their opposition to federal "intervention," their desire for more highways, their coolness toward rapid transit, and their encouragement of improved motoring conditions and services. The whole administrative apparatus of AAA is geared to dealing with state officials, and a reorientation to federal activity would be a difficult adjustment, one that would weaken the state clubs at the expense of the national association.
Considerations such as these have kept the AAA, the largest car user group in the nation, from advancing forcefully the safety interests of its members on the issue of vehicle design. The attempt by the Massachusetts and New York clubs to breathe new life into AAA on this issue has not made much headway. The few courageous men who are trying find that regeneration from within is a difficult task. By not backing a determined policy that demands safer automotive engineering, the dominant leaders continue to allow the nine million members of the AAA to suffer the consequences of unsafe vehicles.
While the AAA may occasionally raise a voice that is displeasing to the automobile industry, that "hub of the safety movement," the National Safety Council, remains the unswerving keeper of the traditional faith. Almost everyone in America has heard the council's repeated injunction that to be safe one simply has to be careful. Before every holiday weekend, the council makes its highly publicized prediction of the number of highway deaths. Should the prediction be exceeded, it shows how important are the council's warnings against carelessness; if the prediction exceeded the actual toll, then the council concludes that its warnings made people drive more carefully. Either outcome serves to nourish the council's image of always being on the side of the angels. The council gets enormous publicity as the nation's caretaker of traffic safety. Since its founding in 1915, the council has saturated the country with slogans, printed material, and broadcasted exhortations for safer driving. It has helped to form state and local safety councils, accrediting seventy-two of them as council affiliates, all devoted to persuading the public to drive carefully. This may be a generally useless endeavor but it is not a harmless one. What seems to fill a need in form succeeds very well in excluding alternative methods that could fill it in fact. Every National Safety Council message disseminates a view of highway safety that lulls even the alert segment of the public into thinking that the council knows how to reduce casualties. Stripped to its fundamentals, the council view is that man must be the element adapted to the accident and injury risks of automobile driving, not that the automobile must be designed for maximum possible adaptation to man's requirements. This prejudiced view of the highway safety problem quite expectedly has led to prejudiced solutions. To administer these biased solutions, biased organizations arise. Of these, the National Safety Council is the most prominent example.
The powerful support enjoyed by the council goes far to explain why it refuses to pursue any policies that might imply criticism of the automobile industry's safety performance. Industry and commerce animate the council, provide the major source of its dues (6000 of its 10,000 members are business firms which pay dues according to size, dues that far exceed the individual dues of $7.50), and dominate its board of directors. The automobile manufacturers and their safety organizations are heavily represented on the board. Further, the Automotive Safety Foundation annually grants nearly $150,000 for the council's yearly inventory of how closely communities are adhering to the "Action Program." About the same amount is granted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The Automobile Manufacturers Association provides the council with funds for special projects.
Overt pressure by the automobile industry, however, rarely has to be exerted; the council has always attracted the kind of men who reflect the industry's viewpoint. As late as 1965 council president Howard Pyle had this reaction to industry critics who are pressing for a crashworthy car: ''The question is, does this nation want a packaged car or a free car?" Once, in the late fifties, a high council executive found the council's taboo on discussion of car design so demeaning that he attempted to effect a modest change in policy. A weekend meeting between the council's board of directors and automobile executives aboard a yacht on Lake Michigan squashed that attempt.
The difference between the National Safety Council's avowed missions and its actual performance shows the extent to which it has subordinated the promotion of safety to the interests of industry. During its quest to win a federal charter (a prestige imprimatur with little legal significance) from Congress in 1953, the council supplied the following description of its work in a report to the House judiciary committee: "The National Safety Council is presently engaged in a continuous and unified program of accident prevention which includes research into the causes of accident occurrence, devising measures for accident prevention, determination of engineering requirements for safe design, construction and use of machines and equipment, formulation of modern safety legislation by providing needed technical information and advice, participation in educational safety projects, dissemination of material on accident cause and prevention, and cooperation with national, state and local agencies in accident prevention. One of its major functions is to act as a national coordinating agency for all private and public bodies interested in matters of safety."
Weighed against such intentions, what is the Council's actual achievement in traffic safety, apart from its publicity campaigns aimed at the driver? First, measured against even a minimal standard, the council conducts no research. No one is more painfully aware of this fact than its research director, Dr. Murray Blumenthal, whose duties are primarily administrative and whose hope of any improvement in this condition is dwindling. Second, the council has not devised any accident prevention measures or determined any engineering requirements for safe design of automobiles. It has sedulously avoided providing to the public, directly or indirectly, any technical information or advice concerning the formulation of safety legislation which concerns vehicle design. Nor has it cooperated in the slightest with any national, state, or local agencies interested in safer vehicle construction.
Avoidance is not the only path followed by the council in order to continue its unblemished record of never differing with the automobile industry. In a detailed chart included in the distribution literature and presented before legislative committees, entitled "Quantitative Analysis of Traffic Safety Services of National Organizations," the council categorically asserts that present research, standards, and recommendations of the automobile manufacturers pertaining to the operational and crashworthy qualities of vehicles are adequate. The council's basis for such an unequivocal evaluation is a letter from the Automobile Manufacturers Association saying so!
A more important protective service the council performs for the automobile industry lies in the nature of the traffic accident statistics that it compiles and reports every year. It has been the practice in this country to rely on the council to provide nationwide data on motor vehicle accidents and injuries. This represents a rather unusual delegation of a public function to a private organization. The council has not failed to abuse the privilege. It has not encouraged the compilation, analysis, or reporting of data by state and local agencies relating to the accident injury experience of different makes and models of automobiles. Nor has it done any sample studies of its own regarding these differences, although its alleged research mission would certainly include studies of this kind. The council's default is all the more insupportable in view of the fact that standard motor vehicle accident report forms include data on the make and year of vehicles involved, providing at least the rudiments for such studies. The first statistical reports in this area, dealing with small car-large car comparisons, have come in the last three years from five state agencies and the Cornell program. Neither central National Safety Council headquarters in Chicago nor its highly publicized field service personnel were involved in these efforts.
In addition, the council is a staunch adherent of measuring traffic safety progress by the death rate per vehicle miles traveled. In a council pamphlet called "The Fight for Life," the decline in the traffic death rate over the years is cited as the answer to the question, "Does all this work and activity by the Council really make things safer for the people of the United States?" This declining death rate, measured in relation to the number of miles traveled by automobiles, is the standard by which the private traffic safety movement measures the success of its programs, assuming without any evidence that such a cause-and-effect relationship exists.
There are many questions that can be raised about the consistency of methods in calculating vehicle miles traveled, but the pertinent factor here is that any claim of a reduced death rate per vehicle miles traveled gives an illusion of progress which is definitely misleading. The fatality rate per hundred million vehicle miles traveled had gone down steadily from 11.4 in 1940 to 5.2 in 1962, then began rising again in 1963 and registered 5.7 in 1964. But fatality rates have remained basically unchanged when the total population of the United States is used as a base. For example, traffic deaths per 100,000 population totaled 26.1 in 1940, 23.0 in 1950 and 24.9 in 1964. What this means is that a motorist can expect to drive farther in any given year without being killed, but he is just as likely as in previous years to be killed within that year. Most important, the council's emphasis on the vehicle-mile death rate has greatly obscured the tremendous injury totals and rates that are produced by automobile collisions. For every death by automobile, there are about ninety injuries, including three totally crippling disabilities. National injury statistics are arrived at only by sample, but evidence in various states indicates a sharp increase in injury rates during the postwar years, reflecting in part a greater density of vehicles in urban areas and more rapid modem medical care that is saving lives. In Connecticut, during Governor Ribicoff's well-known crackdown on speeders, the number of accidents and injuries increased and so did the injury rate per vehicle miles traveled. Connecticut, which compiles better statistics on motor vehicle accidents than most states, reflects the National Safety Council's traditional inattention to injury rates. Between 1961 and 1962 Connecticut reported a staggering 21.8% increase in persons injured. When asked what could explain such an increase, the statistical office of the Department of Motor Vehicles replied that it had no explanation and did not contemplate any study to find one. Robert Catlin, a retired insurance executive and member of the President's Committee for Traffic Safety, proposed at a committee meeting in 1964 that a serious study be undertaken to determine with some exactness the number and pattern of injuries arising out of motor vehicle accidents. He suggested there was reason to believe that the increase has been alarmingly high in recent years. His suggestion received a frosty reception by council and automobile representatives at the meeting.
The focus of the National Safety Council's traffic safety activities is the support and promotion of the "Action Program" of the President's Committee for Traffic Safety. A council publication outlining in great detail how to form a local volunteer safety group states: "The Action Program is a compilation of the best knowledge in the traffic safety field and incorporates accepted standards of national organizations concerned with traffic accident prevention. It is the master plan for all traffic safety activities. The basic objective of your local traffic program should be the adoption of the Action Program in your area."
The Action Program was launched by the traffic safety establishment in 1946 after a White House conference on traffic safety. It consists of ten separate subjects, each represented by a booklet distributed by the President's Committee for Traffic Safety. 
The council president, Howard Pyle, recently made some ambitious claims for this master plan. He said it was developed "through a sound and democratic process," that "every feature in it had been proven workable," that it brings "to each governmental jurisdiction the best of fifty years of ideas, experience and research findings in traffic safety," and that if state and local governments would only invest annually an additional three dollars per capita to apply the program more fully, the traffic death and injury toll would be cut in half.
The facts contradict Mr. Pyle's assertions. The program was drawn up by a clique representing private economic and bureaucratic interests. It was prepared without any participation of the formal institutions, legislative or administrative, that would ordinarily be associated with democratic policy-making. Even technical expertise was not involved. Those who passed on the drafts of the program and determined what was to be included in it, and what emphasized, had no scientific, engineering, or medical qualifications that might have substantial bearing on the drafting of a traffic safety program. Since the program has been unchanged since 1949, it is hard to understand how it could bring "the best of fifty years of ideas, experience and research findings in traffic safety," particularly since the greatest advance in knowledge and experimentation in the traffic safety field has come during the last fifteen years.
The effectiveness of the program has never been determined. The council's annual traffic inventory, purporting to show how many states and cities apply the Action Program, is based on inventory forms filled out by various state officials. From the answers on these forms the council concludes that fifty-six per cent of the Action Program standards have been applied at the city level and seventy per cent at the state level. If one asks how this conclusion was reached, the answer is, "The state officials told us so." Aside from the likely distortions of self-serving statements, what is more interesting is that the council has never compiled comparative evidence showing the accident experience in areas applying the Action Program and those areas not applying it. This failure suggests that the outcome of any comparisons might prove embarrassing to the council and the authoritative mystique which surrounds the program. It is known that some unpublished correlations made by National Safety Council staff in the postwar years have shown negative or inconclusive results. At any rate, the failure of the program to prove its workability is no surprise to the handful of competent accident researchers in this country. They look upon the program as a statement of general aspirations designed to offend none of the interests it was prepared to protect in the first place. Emerging from such a context, it is not surprising that the program gives only the briefest formal attention to the vehicle, that it contains no ranking of priorities for the many subjects it treats, and is almost entirely useless for operating and test purposes.
The council's bankrupt performance is clearly visible when its leaders are interviewed on the subject of the traffic safety problem. The impression received is well summarized by one sympathetic interpreter, Nick Thimmesch, who wrote in Car and Driver of the understanding he carried away from long discussions with council people: "But all of man's programs deliver only promise and perhaps progress, and people will forever fuss over traffic safety. The NSC men know people will always be killed on highways; that Detroit's products and the imports are about as safe as can be; that 'vehicle failure' comes from poor maintenance by owners; that driving environment in the U.S. is spectacularly improved; and that the principal cause of accidents is species homo sapiens, few of whom ever really learn to drive well.
"The National Safety Council, the Great Green Giant, has learned that sin will always be with us. After two generations of trying to reform human nature, the Council now wisely realizes it can only be treated. Besides, life isn't that bad anyway.
"We can only do so much: says Ed Kirby [Edwin Kirby, a National Safety Council traffic safety specialist], the look of knowledge on his face."
On the ground floor of the building at 1711 H Street N.W. in Washington, the safety establishment displays a creativity in political science not approached by the most powerful of private lobbies. The door at that address identifies it as the office of the President's Committee for Traffic Safety. The drawn Venetian blinds covering the long front window do not allow those passing by to see inside. But any interested visitor is greeted by a friendly secretary and on request may meet the committee's executive director, William Foulis, or its assistant director, Richard Tossell. Foulis is a former radio broadcaster and a genuinely talented practitioner of the art of double-talk. Tossell is an unpretentious holder of a doctorate in safety education.
The inquirer would never suspect that behind this smooth facade a federal institution quite without parallel in the history of American government is administered. There bas never been another agency created by and then leased back outright to private enterprise. The price for this continuing experiment of business in government is about $50,000 a year -- a rather modest fee for maintaining an agency that (as the committee's chairman, William Randolph Hearst, Jr., put it) "by virtue of its identification with the office of the President, provides the traffic safety movement with the prestige of the President, which no other organization could accomplish."
Foulis and Tossell labor in government office space and give instructions to civil servants under their authority, but on pay day their checks carry the name of a private, tax-exempt organization called the President's Action Committee for Traffic Safety. Most of the $50,000 which this "paper" organization receives is contributed by the Automotive Safety Foundation and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The remainder comes from a few other private business groups having similar traffic safety interests. With such generosity, the ASF and IIHS have become the dominant members of the President's Committee's advisory council, composed of thirty-seven people, most representing automotive, insurance, transportation, and "professional" safety associations. On paper, the advisory council makes the policy for the committee to follow, but in reality it is the advisory council's executive committee (renamed the administrative committee in September 1964) which is the decision-making group within the council. The actions of the President's Committee are the actions of this executive committee run by Mattson, Brown, Pyle, and Arthur Butler (through his aides) of the National Highway Users Conference. The President's Committee is composed of eighteen patronage positions filled by fairly prominent individuals, most of whom know nothing whatever about traffic safety.
It took considerable ingenuity for the automobile industry leaders to develop the idea of the President's Committee. It was created in 1954 simply by a letter from President Eisenhower to Mr. Harlow Curtice, head of General Motors and chairman of the then Business Advisory Committee on Highway Safety. In the tone of the solicited message, the President's letter, dated April 13, 1954, noted that the recent White House Conference on Traffic Safety (sponsored by private industry) had generated an enthusiasm which should not be lost, and expressed the President's wish "to have a national committee for traffic safety formed to follow through on the fine work begun by the business group."
The Committee's organizational meeting was held two weeks later in Room 4426 of the Treasury Building, where Mr. Curtice stated the new group's purposes. These were to organize local communities for a continuing traffic safety effort and to serve in an advisory capacity to the President on matters pertaining to traffic accident prevention. It was also decided by those present that, contingent upon approval of the American Petroleum Institute, Rear Admiral H. B. Miller (USN, Ret) would become the committee's volunteer director. These private citizens then voted to obtain $16,000 to $20,000 by private subscription to finance salary and travel expenses of a staff director who would be responsible to Admiral Miller. Mr. Curtice offered to raise the necessary funds. Mr. Light Yost of General Motors was appointed as secretary of the committee. In considering a formal name for the committee, all in attendance agreed that it was essential for "President" to be in the title. A government staff responsible to the staff director was to be made available to the committee, Mr. Curtice announced. Thus General Motors required only two weeks to establish an executive organization whose essential structure remains unchanged to the present day.
In 1960, the committee was given a more permanent legal status within the administration by Executive Order 10858, issued by President Eisenhower. It is vaguely worded, permitting the committee's ruling advisory council wide latitude in interpreting its own role and the role of the committee. Executive Order 10858 associated the committee with the White House explicitly in Section Two, which states: "The Committee, on behalf of the President, shall promote State and community application of the Action Program of traffic safety measures established by the President's Highway Safety Conference in 1946 and revised in 1949."
At the beginning of the Kennedy administration there was some question whether the committee would be continued, but this uncertainty was resolved when Mr. Hearst reached an understanding with the President that he would remain as committee chairman. However, in October 1961 the President signed an amendment to the executive order, permitting the Secretaries of Defense, Commerce, Labor, and Health, Education, and Welfare to sit as ex officio members. Whatever hope that this amendment would bring a greater government voice to the committee's actions has not materialized. The representatives of the Departments of Commerce and Health, Education, and Welfare on the advisory council's administrative committee (formerly the executive committee) have played an entirely secondary and almost obsequious role, leaving the entire show to Mattson and his associates.
The committee's formal purpose is to promote state and community application of the Action Program. It tries to do this in part by conducting conferences and seminars of women's groups, state legislators, and county and municipal officials with federal funds. These activities keep Foulis on the road many days, with all the expenses paid by his private employers, who also supply volunteer assistance and absorb some entertainment expenses at these meetings.
William Bethea, Foulis' predecessor, was the committee's privately salaried staff director from 1954 until 1961 when he resigned, partly due to the selfishness of the interest groups on the advisory council, which finally persuaded him that nothing effective could be done. "They close in on you," he said. According to Bethea, the advisory council "is completely hostile to the federal government.... They never want to talk about the vehicle, which is the primary bugaboo," he said. Bethea ridiculed the idea that the committee staff and committee advisers were "safety professionals," saying, "we were just organization and public relations men." In describing how he protected the committee's favored position with the government, he honestly admitted: "I kept the White House wrapped around me all the time." He specifically referred to Howard Pyle, then an aide to President Eisenhower, and Frederick Dutton, an assistant to President Kennedy, as the two key contacts there who "would back you up all the way."
The committee's work includes preparation and distribution of audio and visual aids and the printing and distributing of slick progress reports. The latest such report, released in September 1964, devoted thirty-four pages to the Action Program. Vehicle engineering was discussed in twelve lines, alleging safety gains in recent models. All committee projects are developed and approved by the heads of the advisory council before being sent to the Bureau of Public Roads in the Department of Commerce for financing. A law authorizes the Department of Commerce to spend up to $150,000 a year for the committee's projects. The Bureau of Public Roads' approval of these projects, rendered with little written justification, is a more or less rubber-stamp affair.
The importance of the committee does not come from receipt and expenditure of these small sums, but from the exploitation of its greatest capital asset -- the prestige of the President's office. This is the attraction for all those who work in and around the committee. As James Lake of the Automotive Safety Foundation said at a meeting of the advisory council's executive committee, "The President's name is magic; his appearance is magic." And the committee has made sure that it alone in the traffic safety field bas access to that magic. Ever since Eisenhower took office, every President has spoken on the traffic safety problem only in connection with a function of the committee, such as the presentation of a report or an annual meeting. The proper expressions are drafted by the committee's privately paid staff and sent over to the White House for almost verbatim incorporation into the President's formal statement.
On September 10, 1964, President Johnson issued a statement in response to the committee's report on the Action Program's community application. In the statement he called for an intensified effort toward accident prevention as the program directs, and he praised the committee's work, taking note of the advisory council's supportive role. He thus became the latest President in a line going back to Calvin Coolidge to say, "Primary responsibility [for traffic safety] rests in our States, counties and municipalities."
The committee rarely loses an opportunity to display the President's committee seal on its publications, which leads the reader to believe that their contents have the full approval of the President. Foulis, the committee's executive director, wanted to go even further last year when he unsuccessfully attempted to get Department of Commerce support for the seal's being employed by any safety council or committee-approved group on literature supporting the Action Program.
The President's committee seal has come in bandy for more overt political policies which the advisory council of the President's Committee for Traffic Safety supports. One such instance is the promotion of interstate traffic safety compacts as a means of heading off federal action and at the same time of achieving a de facto delegation of state legislative initiatives to industry-dominated compact commissions. The most important compact to Mattson and the Automotive Safety Foundation is the Vehicle Equipment Safety Compact, which the tax-exempt ASF has helped promote with men and money. This compact was drafted by the Automobile Manufacturers Association and the Council of State Governments. It was launched in 1962 after an exceptionally vague enabling resolution was whisked through Congress, and it is now adhered to by a majority of states. A commission to administer the compact's business has been created and is nestling in the Washington headquarters of the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators. AAMVA -- a private association of state administrators -- has long been the recipient of grants from the ASF and lavish automobile industry hospitality at its annual meetings. The object of the commission is to control the content and pace of motor vehicle safety standards, which are sent to the state legislatures or (where the state law permits) to state motor vehicle departments for approval. The initiatives come from commission "experts" who thus far have all been from the tire and automobile industries.
Three years ago the President's Committee on Traffic Safety began circulating a pamphlet entitled the "Vehicle Equipment Safety Compact" with the President's committee seal prominently displayed on its cover. The pamphlet contained a glowing description of the compact's promise and emphasized the message that highway safety is entirely the states' and not the federal government's responsibility. This pamphlet was printed and paid for by the Automobile Manufacturers Association. There is no record of either the committee or any other federal agency approving this bold move. It was strictly a staff operation carried out by Foulis and industry advisers.
To foster the impression that they are right on top of the traffic safety problem, the advisory council's "professionals" have pursued strange paths to publicize their "make-work" activity. The transcripts of the advisory council's executive committee meetings over the years are laborious records of the deliberations of self-seeking publicists. One of the more coherent subjects that absorbed their energies was discussed at several meetings in early 1963 and centered around information supplied by Howard Pyle that the National Safety Council would soon announce the 1962 traffic fatality toll (40,804) as being the highest ever. All readily agreed that the committee might, in Mattson's words, "offset the negative aspects of last year's all-time high in traffic deaths" by "capitalizing on the public interest generated" by so hideous a record. Mattson said that he and Pyle thought "the President ought to be pulled into this in some manner." There would be some kind of meeting where the President would appear, Mattson foresaw, in front of the members of the President's Committee for Traffic Safety and several representatives of each organization on the advisory council "This could serve as a springboard for the President to make a speech and this would be the platform from which all the publicity would generate as to the concern that the President has over this; he said. Then with an expectation born of past experience, Mattson added: "In all probability the President would say to the President's Committee and to the members of the Advisory Council that this is an urgent situation, an emergency situation, that this is a grass roots problem and therefore, what we ought to do is to get the Action Program of the President's Committee out to the various states."
Foulis and the members of the executive committee then began to discuss strategy about how best to "deliver" the President. Pyle advised his confreres that he had a "fair knowledge of how that white pagoda operates there," and that the object should be to publicize the Action Program by showing that the President believed in it. The President would call the committee and advisory council into emergency session, "as his core of advisers," and charge these advisers to see that this community plan of action was implemented Pyle told his colleagues that getting wider acceptance of the Action Program required repetition. "I have seen my father stand in the pulpit for fifty years," he said, "and talk about the Ten Commandments, and they are going to do that from now until hell freezes over. There is no new way to say this. You have just got to keep saying it over and over and over again. You tell them what you have got to tell them, and you tell them what you told them."
Russell Singer of the American Automobile Association cautioned not to make too much of the 1962 death toll. "This thing could get away from us," he said, referring to the risk of inciting alarmist and radical ideas. He counseled that to give the proper perspective, the fact that people traveled more in 1962 than in 1961 should be attached to the death toll announcement. Discussion followed, off the record, about the danger "of misdirected or undirected public reaction to the 1962 figures."
Back on the record, Pyle stressed the short time available before the council's death toll announcement and how quickly they on the executive committee had to act. Russell Brown wondered about the matter of getting "the skids greased at the White House." Pyle replied that this was a detail to be worked out. Mattson informed Brown that the White House was not aware of any of these plans. Foulis added that neither was Hearst, the committee chairman, indicating that there was "a very strong possibility we can see the chairman in the morning. Whether we want to or not is another thing." Pyle suggested that Hearst "could contact the White House immediately and ask for an audience with the President."
The executive committee moved rapidly. Hearst and Foulis met briefly with President Kennedy on February 8, 1963, to make arrangements. Five days later, the executive committee met in a government office to discuss in more detail what points should come out of the meeting at which the President would appear. William Simon of the National Highway Users Conference advocated getting the White House committed to the kinds of state action that could only end up with state legislation (like backing the Uniform Vehicle Code program). This, Simon reasoned, would by simple logic stop the White House from supporting competitive federal laws for highway safety. He thought that "that would be a good policy position to get the Administration into." Simon expressed added concern that with the "White House dipping their fingers into all kinds of state legislative programs" such as civil rights and getting rid of poll tax laws, it wouldn't seem "that the White House would be out of character if they would dip into this highway safety thing."
Others around the table preferred to suggest that the President say something that would not arouse his suspicions. Foulis offered an alternative: "If we could provide the President with something that would give a public image, give the proper public image of what is being done and how it is being done, we would be much better off ..." This seemed to the group like a good idea, so it was decided that the announced purpose of the meeting would be "the acceleration of the application of the Action Program."
The next matter to which they turned their attention was how to publicize the meeting, and whether federal funds could be used to hire a public relations firm, as was done on prior occasions for the conferences the President's Committee on Traffic Safety sponsored around the country. The Automotive Safety Foundation's James Lake estimated the cost at $5000 and thought that maybe Life magazine could be persuaded to do a story on the general subject of traffic safety, "tying the President into this thing." When Foulis asked, "You think we ought to hire somebody to get Life magazine to cover it?" Lake suddenly dropped the subject. The deliberations continued over who should be invited from the government, whether too many government people would unbalance the private participants' presence, how to handle Capitol Hill, especially Congressman Kenneth Roberts, who was not thought to be properly enthusiastic over either the Action Program or the President's Committee operations.
Russell Brown broke in with exasperation at one point, urging his associates to concentrate on getting President Kennedy to speak before a small group at the White House rather than before a large group in an auditorium, which would dilute the whole idea of the meeting. "I'd like to get this guy on the record to make a statement. He hasn't said boo about traffic safety as far as I am concerned, and I think that is why I am even willing to have him make a statement to the press," he said. Brown clearly thought the time had come to be more aggressive. He declared that Hearst, Mattson, Mrs. Katharine White (a member of the President's Committee) and Foulis "ought to go up there and gang up on the guy. I think it is important that he finally gets on his feet." Dr. Paul Joliet, chief of the Public Health Service's division of accident prevention, concurred. "He will find it more difficult to be negative before four than before one," Joliet said, and Brown replied, "Particularly before a woman."
Mattson was a little worried that "we might look kind of bad if both Mr. Hearst and Mrs. White went in there and neither one knew a damn thing," especially, as Mattson allowed, the President was "no fool." But he went along with the idea of sending four people up there, relying on his own capacity to meet any contingencies.
Nobody, including Dr. Joliet or Mr. James Williams (director of the Bureau of Public Roads' office of highway safety), who ostensibly were representing President Kennedy's administration, raised the question of why the President should stand up for a set of policies created and promoted by what Mr. Williams himself has called, on other occasions, special interest groups abusing the President's prestige. Admittedly, raising such a question would have taken a little courage. The leaders of the President's Committee on Traffic Safety can change moods on short notice. Williams later discovered this at a June 1963 meeting of the executive committee. At that time, he notified the "pillars" of the traffic safety establishment that the Bureau of Public Roads' budget for highway safety had been cut for fiscal 1964 by twenty-five per cent and that this cut would have to be absorbed down the line, including the amount the bureau supplied to the President's Committee. Whereupon the "pillars" subjected Williams to a humiliating session of outraged reactions.
"Who stands up for us when you come to a budget hearing?" demanded Pyle.
"Yon are operating out of the trust fund, which is rather lush with dough right now," Simon asserted.
"Why haven't we the right to seek to correct it?" asked Burton Marsh of the AAA.
Mattson wanted to know if the decision couldn't be changed. He was undisturbed by the fact that the fiscal year was to begin just two weeks later.
Pyle, whose fury was building up, finally exploded: "I think this is murder, absolutely murder, and if I were in a position where I was called on for a public statement about this, I would have to cut this thing to ribbons in public. I don't think the Bureau of Public Roads wants this done."
Williams said, "I think that this decision was made in the best of faith."
"It doesn't make any difference," Pyle told him. "We in the private community are expected to boast of our strength and we are criticized if we don't get something done." What Pyle was indignant over was that fewer taxpayer funds would be available during the forthcoming year to make his "private community" look good.
Simon, of the National Highway Users Conference, interjected that he thought the money representing the twenty-five per cent cut was really going into research instead of traffic safety. "They are researching a way to invent a new transportation device to do away with the automobile. That is one project they have got projected. They are going to find a better form of transportation than the automobile. My people don't like that Neither will yours." "Neither will ours," chimed in Richard Bennett of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Simon wanted James Roche, the executive vice president of General Motors, and Mr. Hearst to go directly to Mr. Whitton, the federal highway administrator, and bring about "a better understanding or adjustment." The discussion was then off the record.
Back on the record, Russell Brown recommended calling Hearst, who was in Europe.
"Have you ever tried to catch him?" answered Mattson. ''There is not enough money in this committee's function to run down that guy." It was finally decided not to pass a formal motion but simply to communicate the committee's displeasure over the cut in other ways and plan so that it would not be repeated in future years.
The executive committee members always have been troubled by Hearst's casualness and inattention to formal operations of the President's Committee for Traffic Safety. Mattson recounted how "terribly embarrassed" he was one time "when Hearst had to get up and leave the President's Committee and said, 'Joe, you take over,' and I said, 'No, I am not a member of the committee.' And he said, 'It doesn't matter; get up there: And he walked out of the room."
Notwithstanding such behavior, Hearst is an important figure whenever the traffic safety establishment has to beat down efforts by Presidential advisers to abolish or downgrade the committee. As chief executive of a large newspaper chain, William Randolph Hearst, Jr. is a good man for approaching Presidents. In December 1963 he met with President Johnson and obtained the President's acquiescence to the continuance of the committee. The newspaper mogul values highly his being Chairman of the Committee and actively worked for reappointment in 1961. Apparently he sees every compatibility between his newspaper holdings and his reliance on the advice of the automobile and insurance safety professionals on the advisory council to whom he defers openly.
Between 1962 and 1964, high officials in the Department of Commerce and certain government agencies tried in vain to dissolve or at least to curb the committee, so anomalous and notorious had been its status and activities under the domination of its advisory council. A host of arguments was advanced to support their case: the untenable fiscal and administrative practices resulting from the mixing of private funds and staff with public funds and staff; the inherent inability of the committee to be adequately responsive to the public interest when its direction comes from private groups; the obstruction, duplication, and complications it poses for the Office of Highway Safety; the false impression it gives to the public that the federal government is playing an important role in highway safety when the committee is actually being used to make sure that precisely the opposite is the case; the use of the committee's Presidential prestige to preserve the status quo in safety policy at the state and community level; the superfluous nature of the committee in the light of the creation of the Office of Highway Safety, the Division of Accident Prevention, and the Interdepartmental Highway Safety Board in the years since the committee was organized; and the more efficient and more appropriate exercise by the Office of Highway Safety of whatever useful endeavors the committee is supposed to perform as outlined in its executive order.
The argument was clear: a privately owned and run government agency should not be tolerated. It was not even good form. But tolerated it was -- and still is. The movement against the committee was reaching a decisive stage in the Department of Commerce, with James Williams, Lowell Bridwell, Acting Deputy Federal Highway Administrator, and Clarence Martin, Under Secretary for Transportation, comprising the chain of command behind it. White House aides were persuaded that something had to be done. But the assassination of President Kennedy on November 22, 1963, shattered all the plans. In January 1964 Secretary of Commerce Luther Hodges submitted to the White House a draft executive order upgrading the Interdepartmental Highway Safety Board (a coordinating group for federal agencies involved in highway safety) and reducing the President's Commit tee on Traffic Safety to a subordinate advisory role. Presidential assistant Walter Jenkins did not think such a change was timely, though he said he saw value in it. What this really meant was that during the previous month Hearst had spoken to the President, who, burdened with the problems of a painful transition, assented to keeping the committee as it was.
In September 1964 Mattson and his associates forged ahead, changing the rules governing the advisory council in order to increase its control over the committee and strengthen its own autonomy. This just brought the formalities closer to the realities. Hearst was delighted to relinquish more of his formal powers as chairman. He had the title and that was what counted.
The committee continues as the Presidential voice on traffic safety with no supervision from the White House. Its wide latitude in employing the President's prestige simply dilutes the respect which the highest office in the nation should be granted. It is scarcely fitting for private interest groups to run an executive agency that speaks for the President; this seems clearly to be a situation that violates the basic canons of democratic government and executive organization. What has enabled the advisory council to manipulate the President's Committee on Traffic Safety in this manner without fear of being disciplined has been its essentially negative mission to see that the federal government stays out of traffic safety and that the entrenched view of accidents and injuries as being due to driver behavior is not disturbed. A status quo policy makes very good camouflage.
The rule of the traffic safety establishment has been a reign of darkness. Few who have observed closely its infidelity to the cause of human life have been in a position or felt a duty to articulate these observations publicly. One exception is Dr. Daniel B. Moynihan, former Assistant Secretary of Labor and the only political scientist who has ever taken a sustained interest in traffic safety. Moynihan found that the establishment's great emphasis on retaining complete state responsibility for traffic safety was not based on any useful analysis of which government jurisdictions can best meet which aspects of the safety problem. It was based instead on an analysis of which jurisdiction can be best manipulated. Moynihan described the situation in state administrations thus: ĚThe typical bureau of motor vehicles is filled with deservedly low-paid clerks and run by an assortment of genial 'pols' with utterly no training or interest in traffic safety except as it provides an opportunity to do small favors -- passing out low-number license plates, lifting a suspension, restoring a license here and there, and so on." It is not surprising that the automobile industry is so proud of its long and close relationships with the state authorities responsible for motor vehicle regulation. In numerous statements, automobile industry spokesmen talk of the Ěconstructive" cooperation between the Automobile Manufacturers Association and the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators. Although the AAMVA is a private organization, the industry representatives regard it as an official body of state administrators, and the AAMVA does nothing to dispel this idea. General Motors' Charles Chayne has given the customary description: "This industry-government link for many years has proved highly effective as a means of facilitating exchange of information and suggestions and as a medium for the cooperative solution of many of the technical and legal problems involved in automotive safety."
So close is the relationship between the industry and most state administrators and their key aides that the Automobile Manufacturers Association's legislative lobbyists, such as Karl Richards and Mark Bauer, need only call their friends at the motor vehicle department to learn whether a given bill introduced by a given legislator has any strength behind it, or whether it is just a "hopper filler."
While Moyoihan was an aide to Governor Averell Harriman in the late fifties, he was also dismayed by the nature and use of traffic-accident data. In 1963, representing the Department of Labor, he testified before the Roberts subcommittee that traffic accident and injury statistics, with very few exceptions, have been collected uncritically for decades by state and local governments and analyzed uncritically by those who process them for national dissemination-meaning largely the National Safety Council. As a result, he said, these statistics have contributed al most nothing to accident injury prevention. The reception given Moynihan's testimony by those to whom it presented a direct challenge further confirmed Moynihan's characterization of the traffic safety movement as lacking in self-criticism. He told the Ribicoff subcommittee two years later about his experience before the Roberts subcommittee: "First, the hearing room in which I made that statement was filled with persons representing the major institutions concerned with traffic safety. Second, it was of course a public statement and was printed in the published record of the hearing. Finally, it was rather an emphatic statement, which had not, to my knowledge, been made before.
"For these reasons, it seems to me that the reaction to the statement was rather remarkable.
"There was no reaction.
"So far as I know the statement never appeared in any traffic safety publication. No one commented on it. No one attempted to refute it. I certainly do not wish to suggest that silence inferred agreement, but it could indicate a measure of indifference."
Indifference to evidence or the lack of it bas been the trademark of the establishment even within its chosen field of concentration -- driver behavior. It has laid great stress on driver education as a principal accident-prevention measure. This measure never was based on any evidence that would substantiate its pretensions. To this day it remains at best a hypothesis that costs millions of dollars and crowds an already congested high school curriculum. Despite numerous reports allegedly proving that youths with driver education (largely classroom lectures) have fewer accidents than those who have not taken such courses, every one of them contains deficiencies that render its conclusions useless, according to Dr. Richard Michaels of the Bureau of Public Roads. Among the control groups chosen for statistical comparison, the driver education group, for example, often has been mainly composed of girls, who drive much less than boys and drive less at night. Or it was found that prosecutors would not pursue first charges involving minor accidents against youths who had taken such courses. This does not mean that the concept of driver training is worthless; it does strongly indicate, however, that the statistics need a firmer foundation before meaningful comparisons can be made. Even after the elements of the driving task are understood, it may be revealed that the time and resources necessary to upgrade driver control and response to highway situations are not practical and are replaceable by cheaper and more effective engineering innovations which adapt to human limitations. The organized forces of safety are unmoved; they want millions of dollars more for the same "proven" kind of driver education of high school students, college students, and adults. The burgeoning driver-education industry, well into its third decade, agrees vigorously.
Enforcement is another "time-tested" preventive measure that has not been subjected to much scientific scrutiny. In an article by Dr. Michaels entitled "The Effects of Enforcement on Traffic Behavior," which appeared in Public Roads in December 1960, the author examined data comparing highly patrolled roads in Wisconsin with comparable roads having fewer patrolmen. The author concluded that different amounts of highway police patrol between the test roads and the non-test roads showed no reliable difference in the number of accidents on those roads. Since studies like this are very rare and since the competence of the researcher, Dr. Michaels, is well known, his conclusion was a challenge to one of the main foundations of the traditional safety policy. (Michaels was trying to open a line of inquiry, not close one.) There was some grumbling about the article along the line of its undermining enforcement efforts, but by and large the establishment held to the standard operating procedure: When challenged, ignore.
Closely allied to the enforcement approach is the long-held belief that a small percentage of incorrigible or accident-prone drivers account for the majority of accidents. If these people could either be adequately punished or taken off the roads, according to this belief, the highway accident problem would be greatly diminished. This exaggerated assertion would never have been taken seriously if its advocates had paused to apply the Poisson distribution-a mathematical technique for describing the probable occurrence of infrequent events. Using the Poisson method, and purely as a result of chance, nine per cent of the drivers would be expected to have forty per cent of all the accidents. Actual accident studies indicate that nine per cent of the drivers have forty-eight per cent of all the accidents. The difference between the Poisson result and the results of these studies is really the small number of drivers who have repeated accidents in excess of the number expected by chance. In a review of studies on the accident-proneness of drivers, Professor Ross McFarland concluded that "close and invariable relationships between particular characteristics of drivers and the frequency of accidents have rarely been found."
For decades, speed was the subject of the most widespread slogans drummed into the public. "Speed kills" and "slow down and live" are familiar ones peddled by the National Safety Council. But of late the council is underplaying these messages, owing in part to the embarrassing effects on the automobile companies' promotional emphasis on horsepower, speed, and racing and -- encouragingly enough -- due in part to the results of a study by the Bureau of Public Roads six years ago. This study, conducted by David Solomon, concerned the relationship between accidents and highway speed on rural highways. The findings showed a more complex picture of the role of speed than had been assumed before. Accident involvement rates are at a minimum at speeds between fifty and seventy-five miles per hour. As the speed goes below fifty miles per hour or above seventy-five miles per hour, the involvement rate increases rapidly. Solomon emphasized the importance of variations from average speed on a given section of highway in contributing to accidents. Although obviously the severity of accidents is greater at higher speeds, the study revealed that considering accident frequency rates and severity, the number of injuries per vehicle miles traveled is at its minimum in the speed range of forty-five to seventy miles per hour.
The failure of the establishment to provide some empirical basis for its driver-oriented nostrums is fully consistent with the purpose of concentrating on the driver in the first place. That purpose is to divert attention from the vehicle, not really to understand driver behavior, because a sincere attempt to understand driver behavior would inevitably bring under discussion the engineering of the vehicle. To take a fairly simple example, many drivers respond to an emergency situation by a sudden application of the brakes, which can easily make the brakes lock and lead to the loss of steering control. There is substantial evidence that the loss of steering control with locked brakes is highly dangerous and has led to many collisions with other vehicles or roadside objects. There are two approaches to solving this problem: either trying to teach drivers that during emergencies they must not resort to a sudden application of brakes which, because of their design, will lock; or trying to persuade the manufacturers to provide cars with anti-locking brakes. It is not difficult to choose the more feasible approach. But although anti-locking brakes have been in use in aircraft since the thirties, the automobile makers have done very little research and development in this area-at least, very little that is publicly known.
The first-rate accident research that is being done in this country, backed mainly by federal funds, is producing mounting evidence that the more that is known about human behavior, the more the fundamental solutions will lie in the engineering of the highway transport system. The vehicle is the basic unit of that system; the driver's adequacy is a function of his vehicle's adequacy. The traffic safety establishment sees the basic problem of accident prevention in the light of an existing system that requires the driver to judge and act perfectly without fail. But the limitations of human beings in coping with the increasingly complex driving task, even under the most rigid law-enforcement or the most ambitious education programs, make it unrealistic to expect all drivers to control their vehicles perfectly all the time.
Before an engineering audience recently, Dr. Michaels described in these words the orientation of modern research on highway safety: "This historical failure has been to arbitrarily assign the control function to the driver without fully knowing whether he could carry out that function with the required accuracy and reliability. And the more we have examined the requirements of the system in its control dimension, the more evidence we have uncovered that those requirements are neither sufficiently adapted to human capabilities nor do they adequately take into account his limitations as a controller." Dr. Michaels offered an example of how electronic communication instruments can greatly improve the driver's ease of perceptual judgments and prevent an accident. "Most of the basic dynamics of the free overtaking rear-end collision accident are known," he said, "and it is possible to design systems for aiding the driver in solving the discrimination and judgment problems inherent in these situations."
Appearing before the National Safety Congress in 1963, Rex Whitton, the Federal Highway Administrator, delivered a significant analysis of the highway safety problem which his Bureau of Public Roads researchers were prepared to explain and defend "Perhaps the time has come," Mr. Whitton said, "to examine some of our present safety programs and some of our present safety concepts. The truth, as I see it, may be painful.... I am concerned about the great amount of energy being devoted to 'hard sell' efforts to reform the driver -- to scare or shame him into being a better one. I believe we have exhausted the value of this continuing assault on human nature. And I have grave doubts that it works.... In many cases haven't we given the driver a task beyond the capacity of his senses, nerves, and muscles? ... I believe that because of these attacks [on the drivers], our attention is being distracted and our energy is being diverted from the essential things we could and should be doing to reduce the traffic accident toll.
"We must face up squarely to this premise: the majority of drivers are performing as well as we can reasonably expect, under existing conditions. From that premise it is logical to reason that the conditions must be changed -- we must improve the road, the vehicle, and the basic control measures of the system. We already have in our hands much proven technology, which if widely applied can bring about great improvement in highway safety. And such improvement is within our financial resources. Indeed, we cannot afford not to move ahead."
Whitton's remarks were as direct a condemnation of the conventional traffic safety theory as a high federal official could make and still observe the Department of Commerce's polite rule not to condemn the vehicle. And he offered an alternate way.
The establishment ignored the address. Whitton's remarks, which at the very least should have sparked debate and self-examination, never went further than his voice carried the day he delivered them. The forces of safety were not interested in the bright expectations of applicable technology, since they have always feared the unforeseen consequences of progress. It is this fear which has helped keep traffic safety efforts more in the hands of unqualified laymen than in the hands of unfettered scientists and engineers. This is why the establishment must keep its policies trivial and stagnant. To raise the saving of 50,000 lives and prevention of over four million injuries yearly to the level of a well defined mission of national importance, excitement, and innovation would attract disturbing talents and resources and the serious attention of the President and Congress. The measure of the establishment's success to keeping traffic safety a subordinate goal in the nation's scale of priorities can be gauged by a news item from the Wall Street Journal of Sept. 17, 1965. It reported: "The Senate passed a two-year, $320 million highway-beautification bill designed to eliminate thousands of advertising billboards and junkyards from the nation's major roads. The measure would also provide $5 million for a study of ways to dispose of scrapped cars and $500,000 for a Commerce Department study of highway safety."
1. The subjects are: (1) laws and ordinances; (2) traffic accident records: (3) education; (4) engineering; (5) motor vehicle administration; (6) police traffic supervision; (7) traffic courts; (8) public information; (9) organized citizen support; and (10) research.