On this day in 1966, the senate unanimously passed the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act which was later signed into law by President Johnson. It was our country’s first legislation mandating safety standards for the manufacture and use of vehicles. Lawmakers clearly recognized that driving is an inherently dangerous activity. For the first time, the Act placed responsibility on manufacturers to design vehicles to be safer for use, and in the event of a crash.
As we at MBC say all the time, everyone knows that car wrecks are next to taxes on the scale in inevitability. That is the purpose of the Act – to make clear to manufacturers and drivers what is expected of them in order to make crashes less dangerous. At first, the rules included things such as a requirement that seatbelts be available for all passengers, mandatory windshield wipers and outside mirrors, and standardized bumper heights. Over the years, the agency that was eventually born out of the Act – the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (part of the Department of Transportation) - has grown to oversee drunk driving awareness efforts, airbags, anti-distracted driving campaigns and odometer fraud investigation. We can thank the efforts of the 1966 Senate for safer child seats, broader understanding of biomechanics, and research into the trauma sustained by the body in car wrecks. People now know about the dangers of leaving children and pets in hot cars and the importance of buckling up, and we have better anti-theft technology. That safety feature your auto manufacturer is bragging about probably came about because of the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act - right down to the padding on your dashboard!
So, next time a seatbelt saves a loved one’s life or your car doesn’t explode on impact, maybe take a second to send a thankful thought out to the Senators from 1966. And, if you’re unfortunate enough to experience your vehicle’s design or manufacture make an injury worse, you may hold the manufacturer accountable for their failure to think of your safety first because of this Act. It’s just one of many laws that account for the inevitability of things going awry and a great example of how recognizing and addressing risks proactively can enhance public safety.