In Memory of Clarence Ditlow

Clarence M. Ditlow III, Executive Director of the Center for Auto Safety, died last night of cancer. He was 72. His passing is a big loss for the safety advocacy community.

The Center released a statement that said, in part:

“His accomplishments included safety recalls of tens of millions of vehicles that saved untold thousands of lives, and lemon laws in all 50 states.  Since the center was founded in 1970, the death rate on America’s roads has dropped dramatically, from 5.2 per 100 million vehicle miles traveled in 1969 to 1.1 per 100 million vehicle miles in 2010. Ralph Nader and Consumers Union established the Center to provide consumers a voice for auto safety and quality in Washington and to help owners of “lemon” vehicles fight back across the country.

Under Mr. Ditlow, the Center played a major role in these recalls, among others: 6.7 million Chevrolets for defective engine mounts, 15 million Firestone 500 tires, 1.5 million Ford Pintos for exploding gas tanks, and 3 million Evenflo child seats for defective latches.”

Ditlow became the Executive Director of the Center for Auto Safety in 1976, and for 40 years, he was its public face and a mentor to others. Sean Kane, president of Safety Research & Strategies, got his start as a safety advocate in the early 1990s working with Ditlow on defect issues. His sweet spot, says Kane, was tackling widespread design defects – such as the rollover propensity of SUVs – in vehicles that met existing motor vehicle safety standards, but caused significant harm in real-world incidents.

“One of the things that stands out about Clarence was his willingness to take on those defects that exposed outdated or ineffective safety standards. In many instances it was clear that fixing the design flaw via a recall was unlikely, but Clarence’s advocacy advanced important issues that ultimately resulted in upgraded standards” Kane said. “For example, the SUV rollover crisis – this was a huge problem that ended up on the enforcement side of NHTSA that should have been addressed through regulation before the controversy emerged in the 1990s. One of his most significant contributions was showing the cracks in the regulatory system through these defect issues.”

Kane says that Ditlow’s legacy also includes his focus on government transparency.

“He fought vigorously for access to NHTSA documents and manufacturers records submitted to the agency” Kane added.

The Safety Record Blog turned to Ditlow for stories on defect issues that CAS championed. Today, we share three of those stories

NHTSA’s “Tough” Stance on Ford Recall – Eight Years Too Late

Jeep Fire Advocacy Heats up While Investigation Stalls

Caught in the Motor Vehicle Safety Act