Automotive Safety

April 28, 1978

Report Outline
Safety Debate in Manufacturing
Changes in the Auto Industry
Regulation and Industry Response
Special Focus

Safety Debate in Manufacturing

Impact of Verdict in the ‘Pinto Case’

Last year over 49,000 people died in traffic accidents in the United States. Shock at the carnage on the nation's highways usually has been directed toward the driver, expressed in moral invectives against reckless or drunken driving. This was due to the common assumption that since cars are driven by people, it follows that drivers are responsible for accident-related deaths.

This line of reasoning has been challenged in recent years. There is a growing realization that while a sizable percentage of accidents are caused by drivers, many are the result of defects in motor-vehicle design and engineering. The idea that auto safety is not entirely the responsibility of the driver has been reflected in recent court decisions. “The courts are now assuming that it's reasonable to expect auto accidents and that they should pose the least threat once they occur,” said Clarence Ditlow, director of the Center for Auto Safety.

In February a jury in Santa Ana, Calif., handed down a verdict assessing $125 million in punitive damages and $3.5 million in compensatory damages against the Ford Motor Co. in a case involving a 1972 Pinto. The car stalled on a freeway near San Bernardino, Calif., and was struck in the rear by another vehicle. The Pinto's gas tank ruptured, releasing gas vapors in the car's passenger compartment. These exploded into flames that fatally injured the 52-year-old driver, Lily Gray, and badly burned a teenage passenger, Richard Grimshaw.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Jun. 19, 2020  Fuel Efficiency Standards
Feb. 01, 2019  Self-Driving Cars
Feb. 17, 2017  Reducing Traffic Deaths
Jul. 25, 2014  Future of Cars
Feb. 06, 2009  Auto Industry's Future Updated
May 16, 2003  SUV Debate
Oct. 26, 2001  Auto Safety
Jan. 21, 2000  Auto Industry's Future
Jul. 25, 1997  Aggressive Driving
Oct. 16, 1992  U.S. Auto Industry
Apr. 27, 1990  Curbing Auto-Insurance Premiums
Jul. 14, 1989  Automakers Face Trouble Down the Road
Aug. 31, 1984  U.S. Auto Industry: Strategies for Survival
Feb. 23, 1979  Auto Research and Regulation
Apr. 28, 1978  Automotive Safety
May 10, 1974  Auto Industry in Flux
Apr. 18, 1973  Auto Emission Controls
Jan. 13, 1971  Auto Insurance Reform
Jul. 27, 1966  Fortunes of Auto Industry
Jun. 04, 1965  Automobile Safety
Jul. 10, 1964  Automobile Insurance and Traffic Safety
Nov. 19, 1958  Small Cars
Apr. 17, 1957  Better Driving
Jul. 01, 1954  Competition in Automobiles
Mar. 23, 1954  Automobile Liability Insurance
Dec. 24, 1952  Highway Accidents: Causes and Remedies
Aug. 21, 1945  Automobiles in the Postwar Economy
Sep. 02, 1938  The Market for Automobiles
Oct. 26, 1932  Outlook for the Automobile Industry
Dec. 10, 1929  Condition of the Automobile Industry
Jan. 30, 1928  Automobile Fatalities and Compulsory Insurance
Dec. 10, 1927  The Status of the Automobile Trade
Motor Traffic Safety
Motor Vehicles