A look back at the origins of the ever-metastasizing societal plague that is Safetyism.
Americans’ love affair with the car has cooled off but not because Americans don’t love cars. Rather, it is because of what cars have become.
Once, they were like the pretty girl who smiled at you in class, back in high school. They made your pulse uptick, filled your mind with happy possibilities. You wanted one. And – once upon a time – the one often led to the other.
Or at least, helped.
Now, cars are like a sourpuss pants-suit-wearing wife who long ago stopped smiling at you – and bats away your hand when you try to hold hers. You don’t want to see – much less hear her anymore – and wish you could get away from her, but you need to stay married for the sake of the kids or so as to avoid losing your shirt.
This transition occurred because of the sourpuss, pant-suit-wearing types, not necessarily your wife – which makes it even worse.
Pants-suiters such as Joan Claybrook – the old sourpuss who headed the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (italics added for the should-be-obvious reason) back in the ‘70s, when saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafety – as defined by some old sourpuss – somehow became a function of government, formerly concerned with ensuring that people’s rights were respected and dealing with people who caused harm to others.
Claybrook was a disciple and acolyte of another pants-suiter who happened to be male, nominally – Ralph Nader. He was the John the Baptist figure of Safetysim, the cult which first ruined cars and is now ruining everything else.
Nader anointed himself a “public citizen” and began to “represent” the “public,” despite not one member of the actual public ever having voted to give this man proxy power to “represent” them or anyone else. He and his termagant protege began to agitate for the government to impose (via regulations) “safety” standards upon new cars; which is to say, to impose them upon new car buyers – most of whom had previously expressed no interest in them, as via a willingness to pay for them. And who may have had a very different view of what “safety” constitutes.
For some, “safety” meant a car that was road-worthy, free of defects in design or manufacture that rendered it dangerous to drive – controlled by a driver competent to sit behind the wheel.
For Nader and his heirs – including Claybrook – it meant a car that idiot-proofed against a driver who probably should be a passenger.
Nader became famous by smearing the Chevrolet Corvair, which was an unusual car for an American car of the early ‘60s. It was rear-engined, like a Porsche – which made the front end light and also made for easy steering without need of power steering. It was a very nimble-handling car, which was also very unusual for an American car of the early 1960s.
But it was important to read – and follow – the tire inflation pressure recommendations, which were not the same, front-to-rear. And that was also unusual, for an American car. The sticker was right there, but some people didn’t read it – and inflated all four tires to the same PSI. This worsened the lift-throttle (in a curve) oversteer tendency that all rear-engined cars – including the same era Porsches and VW Beetles – were prone to. Just as front-drive cars today tend to understeer when put into a curve at high speed.
Ralph who-didn’t-drive and who dislikes cars blamed the car – describing it (though not the fundamentally similar Porsche or VW Beetle) as Unsafe at Any Speed. His fame – and influence – spread. Abetted by an if-it-bleeds-it-leads media, corporations were browbeaten and government was empowered.
Cars were festooned with ugly “5 MPH” bumpers, ruining their looks like braces mar the face of an otherwise pretty girl. Seatbelt interlocks were ordered. You had to “buckle up” before you could drive.
Saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafety became policy. Not roadworthiness. Not competence. Beauty – and fun – took a back seat to how fast you could drive a car into a tree and live. Every time someone did something idiotic, everyone else got idiot-proofed.
Well, naturally. I mean, surely you’ve heard the eternal Safetyist war-cry: IF EVEN ONE LIFE IS SAVED…!!!
Had a conversation with my brother a few days back, wherein we were running down all the truly wonderful things that have been taken from us, as well as the many more things that will be gone for good as the result of the Coming Unpleasantness and its aftermath. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the sentiment of sadness, puzzlement, and regret for these collective losses (or thefts) expressed better than the way Jack Nicholson does here:
Really says it all, don’t it? I’ve run this clip here numerous times over the years; perhaps the most frightening thing of all is how, as time goes by and our losses keep mounting, the sting of truth in the words of George’s brilliant soliloquy only becomes more haunting, more painful.