Clarence Ditlow, a very influential and effective activist who protected consumers from unsafe vehicles died from colon cancer on November 10. He was 72 years old.
Clarence Ditlow who started as a lawyer for Ralph Nader’s Public Interest Research Group in 1971 had been at the head of the Center for Auto Safety for the last 40 years. A lawyer and an engineer, Ditlow dedicated his life to improve the safety of anyone driving or riding a car. A workaholic who received only a modest salary, he spent his life going after negligent automakers and complaisant regulators.
Tirelessly assembling evidence about the causes of car accidents and the injuries or deaths resulting from these crashes, he exposed safety defects in millions of motor vehicles. His work lead to massive safety recalls and saved an untold number of consumers from deadly accidents. He was considered the “guardian angel” of American motorists.
Ditlow not only went after the manufacturers but also after the safety regulators. He was very critical of the “cozy relation” that the NHTSA entertained with the auto makers. His most recent fight was related to safety standards for driver-less vehicles. A few months before he passed, Ditlow heavily criticized the NHTSA for failing to develop binding safety standards for autonomous vehicles. “In its zeal to advance driver-less vehicles,” he wrote, “NHTSA has forgotten its mission is to ensure safety, not promote gee-whiz vehicle technology to increase sales.“
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