Autos: 23 Rules

5 minute read

As a young intern from Harvard Medical School (’53), Dr. William Haddon Jr. adopted the custom of wearing bow ties because “I didn’t want a tie draping over patients.” Today, as administrator of the three-month-old National Traffic Safety Agency, Haddon still remains considerate of his patients. Last week, amid the chrome of the annual Detroit Auto Show, the industry’s brass gathered to hear what Haddon’s agency had in mind. To their vast relief, they discovered that they could live pretty well with Haddon’s opening list of mandatory safety regulations.

Haddon outlined 23 safety features that he proposes to see added to all ’68 model cars. Automen have until Jan. 3, 1967 to make protests. The list, with or without amendments, will go into effect on Jan. 31. It seems unlikely that many objections will be made, since most of the innovations are already incorporated into ’67 models, and Haddon dropped two original proposals—standard-height bumpers and rear-window defoggers—which caused earlier concern on the part of auto companies.

The top men of the Big Three harmonized in praise of Haddon. Said James Roche, president of General Motors: “He offered some very constructive and intelligent suggestions.” Said Ford’s President Arjay Miller: “He is a reasonable man and he has a balanced approach.” Said Chrysler’s new board Chairman Lynn Townsend: “He is a realistic person and a good appointee.”

Haddon’s 23 rules were neatly divided into preaccident, accident and post-accident categories.


> Dash panel knobs must be so situated that a safety-belted driver can reach them; at the same time they must be out of impact range. Ignition keys, for instance, are to be moved out of possible contact with a driver’s knee. Cigarette lighters and windshield-washer buttons are to be spaced away from headlight switches to prevent an accidental turn-off of headlights. All of this has already been done on ’67 cars.

> On the gearshift indicators of automatic transmissions, “drive” and “reverse” must be separated by a neutral position between to ensure that cars will not be accidentally shifted into the wrong gear. The forward speed henceforth must also include a “braking effect” at 25 m.p.h. or less when a driver takes his foot off the gas pedal.

>Front windshields are required to have defrosting and defogging systems —which are already commonplace.

> Windshields must also have wiping and washing systems that sweep four-fifths of the front glass, an increase over present systems.

>Cars must have dual brakes in case one brake system fails, a move that was inaugurated with the ’67s.

> Hydraulic-brake hoses must meet Society of Automotive Engineers standards to reduce brake failures that are due to fluid leakage.

> Shiny metal in front of the driver will be reduced in order to cut down glare. There will be less chrome on wipers and steering wheels; dashboards will be padded to cut shininess.

>Lights, reflectors and signaling devices will be standardized.

> Passenger-car tires must have increased endurance and braking energy.

> Larger tires to carry greater loads must be installed on ’68 models. Current cars are equipped with tires for only partial loads; henceforth tires will have to support five passengers and 200 Ibs. of luggage.

> Rear-view mirrors must be made to break away under impact without leaving sharp edges to cause head injuries.


> Control knobs must be more flush with dash panels and other projections—handles, arm rests, coat hooks and sun visors—must be padded.

> Front-seat head restraints, or taller headrests, must be installed in order to reduce the danger of whiplash. Such equipment is already optional. As a mandatory matter, this one will tax Detroit’s stylists in their effort to make the front seats, with headrests, appear slightly more attractive than barbers’ chairs. Moreover, making millions of headrests now for millions of cars whose designs are already set will be a major production problem.

> Collapsible steering columns will henceforth be required to minimize chest, neck and facial injuries; all ’67 cars have a version of such columns.

>Steering columns may not protrude too far into the interior of the passenger compartment of a car. This regulation is already moot because the Chevrolet Corvair, the only car that had such a column, has been redesigned to rule out the potential hazard.

> Windows must be made out of laminated layers of glass to cut down the danger of flying shards. All ’67 models already have such glass.

> Door latches, presently made to withstand 1,700 lbs. of pressure, must withstand 2,000 Ibs. This will lessen the possibility of people being thrown out through sprung doors.

> In two-door cars, hinged front seats must be equipped with a locking device that keeps them from flying forward under impact, and all car seats must be anchored securely.

> Seat belts must be installed for each forward-facing passenger seat in an automobile, meaning that six will be required for a standard car and four for a model with bucket seats.

> Seat belts must also be standardized in all cars.

>Seat belts with a shoulder-type harness, like those on foreign cars, must be anchored with bolts capable of withstanding 1,500 Ibs. of force. In lap belts common to U.S. cars, the pressure is standardized at 2,500 Ibs.

> Protruding wheel nuts, disks and hub caps must be removed. Specifically, this means that the spinners, or prong-shaped hubcaps that the hot-dog set likes to add to wheels, must be taken off.


Haddon’s final regulation, dealing with post-accident conditions, provides for stronger fuel tanks, fuel pipes and carburetor hoses to lessen the danger of fire.

The new rules should reduce the number of accidents caused by faulty cars as well as the number of deaths after accidents occur. But neither stronger doors nor seat belts nor safer brakes are a cure for what National Safety Council statistics show is at the root of 85% of all accidents: carelessness on the part of the driver.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at