I was born two years before Unsafe at Any Speed was published. The first car I rode in had no seatbelts and a metal dash. The next car had seatbelts, and a padded dash, but nobody wore the seatbelts, because back then nobody did, besides which they were inconvenient to use. The next car had three-point shoulder and lap belts for the driver and front-seat passenger. Then there were three-point belts for the back seat, and airbags. Today every car we own has three-point belts for everyone, front and side curtain airbags, and we knew the crash ratings when we bought them.
That’s less than 50 years to go from basically nothing to what we have today. The auto industry fought it tooth and nail in the 60’s, but in the end they were forced by regulation to do something that turned out to be for their own long-term benefit, and now it’s inconceivable that “safety” isn’t one of the prime features of a new car.
Last night one of my friend’s daughters, a girl I’ve known since she was 3 years old, had a head-on collision when a kid driving on slippery roads spun out and entered her lane. Her car is an absolute mess – it’s totaled and the front end is basically obliterated. She and her front seat passenger, all wearing seatbelts, of course, walked away from the crash. Her only injury with a little bump on the head from where the airbag deployed. The boy driving the other car also walked away.
If this had been 1962, or probably 1972, she’d either be in the hospital or the morgue. Because of government regulation and good engineering, the only aftermath in 2012 is mark that can be covered with makeup. The reason she’s alive is Democrats and Republicans (even in the Reagan Administration) compromising to continually increase safety regulations on cars.
I wonder how many “how things have changed stories” won’t be told forty years from now because we have a Republican Congress that is on track to be the least productive in recorded history?