“Industry didn’t want to bring up the issue of safety,” Ralph Nader, a consumer activist and early seat belt champion, told STAT. “They were selling high performance, speed, and glamour.”
He and other seat belt advocates — including trauma surgeons and insurance companies — spent years lobbying hard for legislation. The pushback got personal. “We were accused of being un-American, and asked why we didn’t go back to Russia, and why we wanted to be the national nanny,” said Nader.
Opponents put up plenty of misinformation. Nader remembers warnings — not borne out by research — that seat belts would crush people’s organs in a crash. Fred Rivara, an injuries expert and professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington, remembers an unsubstantiated claim that any positive effects would be cancelled out by people dying when they couldn’t escape fiery cars.