Fifty years ago this month (on September 9, 1966), President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety laws that launched a great life-saving program for the American People.
I was there that day at the White House at the invitation of President Johnson who gave me one of the signing pens. In 1966, traffic fatalities reached 50,894 or 5.50 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. By 2014, the loss of life was 32,675 or 1.07 fatalities per hundred million vehicle miles traveled. A huge reduction!
This was an astounding success for a federal safety program that included mandatory vehicle-safety standards (seat belts, airbags, better brakes, tires and handling among other advances) and upgrading driver and highway-safety standards.
When the crashworthy standards were first proposed in 1967, Henry Ford II warned that they “would shut down the industry.” Ten years later on NBC’s Meet the Press he conceded, “We wouldn’t have the kinds of safety built into automobiles that we have had unless there had been a federal law.”