In 1965, 47,089 Americans were killed in automobile accidents, and 5.3 fatalities occurred for every stretch of one million miles covered across the USA. This same year, Ralph Nadar penned a book to change the course of automotive history permanently, a book that led to sweeping changes through the 1970s and 1980s.
That book is Unsafe At Any Speed, which bluntly called out the automotive industry as being frugal, cheap corporations focused on profits over occupant safety.
The book has officially turned 50 years old but, as told by Autoblog, it has had lasting repercussions on the industry as a whole. Ten months following the books publications, then-President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act, which led to the creation of the Department of Transportation and, subsequently, what we know today as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
We can thank Nadar for the demise of skinny pillars, and some of the most iconic American automobile designs but, more importantly, his call for action led to air bags, seatbelts and more safety equipment we take for granted today in 2015.
For some perspective, we’ve included the following video down below; a crash test showing 50 years of automotive safety improvements featuring at 1959 Chevrolet Bel Air and a 2009 Chevrolet Malibu. The crash is a typical overlap test performed by the IIHS, and paints a picture of how far we’ve come. It’s amazing what 50 years can do.