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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Auto Safety in Jeopardy

Well, motorists, get ready for higher auto insurance rates, higher casualty rates on the highway and more pollution, especially from trucks and diesel engines–all compliments of the Reagan administration.

Notwithstanding the technical ease with which the auto company engineers could have produced cleaner, more life-saving and less damage-prone cars, the Reaganites have moved to dismantle many important auto-safety and emission-control standards and proposals.

General Motors chairman Roger Smith now is running Washington, at least with regard to the motor-vehicle laws. And Smith does not like any law or order applied to his company.

A few days ago, Secretary of Transportation Drew Lewis announced another delay of the “passive-restraint” standard for cars. This means that many people will be going through windshields in collisions instead of being cushioned by air bags or passive belts.

Lewis also announced that he is considering, among several options, making sure that there will NEVER be any requirement to install these life-saving systems in cars.

Lewis, a multimillionaire not prone to worrying about car-repair costs, also is proposing to let the car companies reduce the protective value of bumpers from the present five miles per hour to 21/2 miles per hour. So indentured is Lewis to the Roger Smith crowd that he even ignored the evidence and pleas of the insurance industry to maintain the 5-mph standard.

Secretary Lewis has difficulty maintaining the dignity of his office as a member of the Cabinet. When he huddled in private last month in Detroit with Ford and GM executives, he was so anxious to assure them of the nominal future of auto-safety regulation that Ford cancelled its orders for the air bags it planned to offer as 1982 options in its largest cars.

Lewis then returned to Washington and gave carte blanche to his department to use the auto companies’ wildly exaggerated cost figures to explain why it was abandoning so much of the safety and damage-control mission mandated to it under federal laws. Here are some other formal proposals that Lewis has announced which will cost motorists dearly:

  1. Withdrawal of any post-1985 fuel-economy standards. That means the end of pressure by our government to push for rapid increases in the number of miles you get on a gallon of gasoline and to make sure that the advertised mileage tests are not inflated as they have been for several years;
  2. Abandonment of a well-researched proposal to make the manufacturers design their seat belts for greater convenience, comfort and usage;
  3. Revocation of a standard requiring tamper-resistant odometers;
  4. Elimination of a brake-safety standard scheduled for 1983 and 1984 that would affect many light trucks, buses and vans;
  5. Cessation of further consideration of a rule to prevent explosive separations of multi-piece tire rims—a tragedy that was the subject of a “60 Minutes” television program earlier this year;
  6. Termination of a proceeding directed toward improving fields of view for motor vehicles, a stanĀ­dard that has long been urged by optometric specialists to improve drivers’ ability to see. The list is longer, but the examples illustrate just how virulently extremist the Reaganites are when it comes to subverting the life-saving goals of the auto-safety laws. Imagine how disappointed the dedicated auto-industry safety engineers must be who worked to perfect and apply the inexpensive air-bag system for all sizes of cars and trucks.

Last October, former GM vice president John DeLorean said that “the greatest challenge that faces all of us is the challenge of producing a safe, smaller car.” Obviously, the Reagan administration prefers a policy of letting the auto companies manufacture lower-quality automobiles than American technology can produce. This approach is neither humane nor good business for the auto industry.