GM tried to discredit Ralph Nader, hiring private detectives to tap his phones and investigate his past, and hired prostitutes to trap him in compromising situations. Nader sued GM and settled the case for $425,000. He used the money to start the pro-consumer Center for Study of Responsive Law.
Ralph Nader is an American political activist, as well as an author, lecturer, and attorney. Areas of particular concern to Nader include consumer protection, humanitarianism,environmentalism, and democratic government.
Nader came to prominence in 1965 with the publication of his book Unsafe at Any Speed, a critique of the safety record of American automobile manufacturers in general, and particularly the first-generation Chevrolet Corvair. In 1999, a New York University panel of journalists ranked Unsafe at Any Speed 38th among the top 100 pieces of journalism of the 20th century.
Nader is a five-time candidate for President of the United States, having run as a write-in candidate in the 1992 New Hampshire Democratic primary, as the Green Party nominee in 1996 and 2000, and as an independent candidate in 2004 and 2008.
Nader began to write about consumer safety issues in articles published in the Harvard Law Record, a student publication of Harvard Law School. He first criticized the automobile industry in 1959 in an article, “The Safe Car You Can’t Buy”, published by The Nation.
Automobile safety activism
Ralph Nader lectures at Florida State University, 1980s
In 1965, Nader wrote the book Unsafe at Any Speed, in which he claimed that many American automobiles were unsafe to operate. The first chapter, “The Sporty Corvair – The One-Car Accident”, pertained to the Corvairmanufactured by the Chevrolet division of General Motors, which had been involved in accidents involving spins and rollovers. More than 100 lawsuits were pending against GM related to accidents involving the popular compact car. Nader based his initial investigations into car safety on these lawsuits.
In early March 1966, several media outlets, including The New Republic and The New York Times, reported that GM had tried to discredit Nader, hiring private detectives to tap his phones and investigate his past, and hiring prostitutes to trap him in compromising situations. Nader sued the company for invasion of privacy and settled the case for $425,000. Nader’s lawsuit against GM was ultimately decided by the New York Court of Appeals, whose opinion in the case expanded tort law to cover “overzealous surveillance”. Nader used the proceeds from the lawsuit to start the pro-consumer Center for Study of Responsive Law.
Nader’s advocacy of automobile safety and the publicity generated by the publication of Unsafe at Any Speed, along with concern over escalating nationwide traffic fatalities, contributed to Congress’ unanimous passage of the 1966 National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act. The act established the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, marking a historic shift in responsibility for automobile safety from the consumer to the government. The legislation mandated a series of safety features for automobiles, beginning with safety belts and stronger windshields.
Several years later, in 1972 Texas A&M University conducted a safety commission report on the Corvair for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration; it found that the 1960–1963 Corvairs possessed no greater potential for loss of control than its contemporaries in extreme situations. According to Crash Course by Paul Ingrassia, Corvairs were environmentally friendly due to their smaller size and lighter weight. In contrast, the former GM executive John DeLoreanasserted in On a Clear Day You Can See General Motors (1979) that Nader’s criticisms were valid.