The Congress: Toward Safer Cars

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In 1965, 49,000 Americans died on the nation's streets and highways, while 1,800,000 others-more than the entire population of Detroit-suffered disabling injuries. In terms of miles traveled, an American is 41 times as likely to die in his car as he is in an airplane. Last week, after years of deploring such statistics, House and Senate Committees began hearings on what President Johnson has called the nation's "gravest" domestic problem.

As part of its six-year, $700 million highway safety bill, the Administration requested discretionary authority to establish automobile safety standards-and fully expected Congress to balk. As it turned out, Congressmen complained that the Administration had not gone sufficiently far or fast. Senator Abraham Ribicoff, a stern evangelist of traffic safety when he was Governor of Connecticut, urged that the Administration should be required, not authorized, to set safety standards, adding that in any case they could not be incorporated until the 1970 models. Asked Ribicoff: "Are we going to watch 50 million new cars roll off the assembly lines free of any safety regulation?" Though Congress has no intention of dictating design, Ribicoff, for one, argued for standards that would assure Detroit's safety engineer as attentive a hearing as its stylist.

His concern was shared by Senator Vance Hartke of Indiana, who observed that "murder by motor at home is just as deadly as murder by mortar in Viet Nam." New Hampshire's Norris Cotton objected that the Government "now spends almost as much on the safety of ducks as it does on the traffic safety needs of 190 million people." To prove its resolve, the Senate Commerce Committee approved a measure establishing federal standards for tires by 1969.