“If anything is sacred, the human body is sacred.”
— Walt Whitman, quoted in Unsafe at Any Speed
In 1965, Ralph Nader wrote the manifesto Unsafe at Any Speed: The Designed-In Dangers of the American Automobile. “For over half a century,” Nader charged, “the automobile has brought death, injury, and the most inestimable sorrow and deprivation to millions of people.” As U.S. traffic deaths surpassed 50,000 annually, Nader contended that “doctors, lawyers, engineers and other specialists have failed in their primary professional duty: to dedicate themselves to the prevention of accident-injuries.”
He saved his most fervent anger for automobile manufacturers, whose indifference to life-saving design features he viewed as an “assault” on the human body. “Body rights,” he claimed, deserved “the precise, authoritative articulation and front-rank support which is being devoted to civil rights.” Even if the book did not send citizens pouring into the streets, it made a powerful impact: President Lyndon Johnson signed the National Highway Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act the next year. More important, Unsafe challenged the dominant culture of American business. By insisting that consumer safety was a corporate duty and a civil right, Nader applied “full moral pressure” on manufacturers to produce designs that prioritized safety over style.