Ditlow And Nader: Put Executives In Jail For Takata And GM Recalls

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth

Did Takata effectively bribe their way out of an NHTSA investgation? That appears to be the allegation made in the New York Times by auto-safety careerists Clarence Ditlow and Ralph Nader.

Titled Weak Oversight, Deadly Cars, the co-authored piece argues for the return of iron-fisted regulatory behavior on the part of the United States Government — up to and including the incarceration of major industry figures.

Shots are fired as the duo open the piece with outright allegations of corruption and what amounts to bribery and coercion of public officials:

Only after a lengthy delay was the agency prodded, in 2009, into opening an investigation into whether the first two Honda recalls of Takata airbags were adequate. Although the agency asked tough questions, it quickly closed the investigation after Takata hired a former senior N.H.T.S.A. official to represent the company… [N]umerous officials — including Diane K. Steed, Jerry Ralph Curry, Sue Bailey and David L. Strickland, who all served as head of the agency, and Erika Z. Jones, Jacqueline S. Glassman and Paul Jackson Rice, who all served as chief counsel to the agency — have gone on to become consultants, lawyers or expert witnesses for auto companies.

In other words, there’s a revolving door between the industry and the governmental agency assigned to control its deadliest excesses. Sound familiar? Only because the same thing exists between automotive journalism and manufacturer public relations offices.

What’s the solution? Unsurprisingly for anyone familiar with Messrs. Nader and Ditlow, it’s some Soviet-style personal responsibility for corporate failures:

[T]he industry has blocked any meaningful provision for criminal penalties that would make company executives who concealed defects or decided not to recall dangerous vehicles subject to prison sentences. No single reform would change corporate behavior as much as this.

Why stop at throwing them in jail? Why not just have them purged via the expedient of a bullet to the head? It’s not difficult to imagine Nader licking his lips as he fantasizes about taking the role of the Scarecrow in Bane’s “court of the people”:

The utterly repugnant idea of throwing engineers in jail for failing to design the perfect airbag is a relic of the Soviet era in more ways than one: surely every automaker in the United States would react by moving their entire engineering and technical staffs overseas within months, something Nader and Ditlow have perhaps failed to consider. Alternately, they are confident that the United States could impose such penalties on Japanese, German, or Korean engineers, perhaps with the assistance of Seal Team Six.

Yet it must be admitted that the American public’s natural resistance to Stalin-esque rubbish like this diminishes significantly every time the so-called free market fires metal shrapnel into an accident victim’s neck. Which is why the automakers need to consider Messrs. Nader and Ditlow less the discarded remnants of Carter-era idiocy and more the voices crying out in the wilderness, telling the sinners of this world to clean up their mess lest it be cleaned for them, with unpredictable results.

Jack Baruth
Jack Baruth

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  • Etho1416 Etho1416 on Oct 31, 2014

    Wow, this is a pretty inaccurate post. Mr. Nader seems to explicitly say in the quote Mr. Baruth provides, that he wants to punish "..company executives who concealed defects or decided not to recall dangerous vehicles...". So why does Mr. Baruth go on an long rant about putting engineers who accidentally design a faulty part in jail? Where on earth does does this come from? Not from the material he quoted. It is a total misinterpretation aimed at bashing the longtime safety advocate. I do not think, and the quotes back it up, that Mr. Nader is asking for engineers go to jail for a design flaw. He is asking that executives (and one could assume even engineers) who discover that a design has a fatal flaw, and then choose to either cover it up or not recall it, should be held accountable. Is that really that crazy? Yes it might be tough to prove who knew what and when but prosecution should be an option if the case is clear that someone knew of the problem and either did not disclose it to a superior or someone knowingly misled a regulator, etc. This remind me of the old Niedermeyer-led hard-right libertarian stance this site used to take. I hope it is not going down that road again.

  • Shaker Shaker on Nov 01, 2014

    Many companies prompt engineers into the "management path" these days. One would reason that this is to introduce some expertise into the management regime, thus allowing decisions based on sound science. But (like all seemingly good things) this has morphed into a layer of "engineers" that are more prone to make decisions on behalf of the bottom line, rather than pure engineering (especially risk analysis). I look to the Morton Thiokol engineers who pleaded against the Challenger shuttle launch, and the "manageers" who overruled them.

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