Ernie Kovacs, known as a comedian who was a host on his own television show during the 1950s dies on January 13th, 1962 after crashing his Chevrolet Corvair, during a rainstorm, into a telephone pole in Los Angeles, California. Kovacs was said to have inspired such TV hosts as David Letterman and Johnny Carson. He had regularly appeared on camera having his trademark cigar and should not be a surprise that police found him with an cigar that was unlit, which led to speculation that he had lost control of his car while trying to reach for a cigar. Interestingly, the Corvair would eventually become infamous by a groundbreaking book written by Ralph Nader in 1965 called “Unsafe at Any Speed: The Designed-In Dangers of the American Automobile;” this discussed the unsafe practices that was going on in the auto industry.
Ralph Nader was born in 1934 and would go on to graduate from Princeton University and Harvard Law School. He would go on to publish “Unsafe at Any Speed” during a time when automakers in the U.S. were still unregulated largely. The book insinuated that automobile companies were creating vehicles that emphasized power and style instead of focusing on consumer safety. There was a chapter in the book that had a focus on handling difficulties with the Chevrolet Corvair; this vehicle was built by the auto giant General Motors (GM).
Nader would eventually testify before Congress in February of 1966 regarding certain issues in the book. The news media outlets were reporting that shortly after Nader had completed his testimony to Congress, he had been followed by detectives. Later on, it was discovered that GM had hired investigators to keep tabs on Nader as well as to dig into his personal life in hopes of discrediting him; this led to Nader deciding to sue GM of invasion of privacy and harassment in which he was awarded a settlement. Ironically, GM’s actions turned out to be great publicity for Nader and his book “Unsafe at Any Speed” as it became a best seller; this also made him a household name.
His public advocacy regarding issues on auto-safety assisted in the passing of the 1966 National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act. This act attempted to reduce the increasing number of deaths and injuries from road accidents by creating federal standards in safety for each American vehicle; this included for passenger’s safety belts. The Corvair would eventually be discontinued by GM in 1969 as sales slumped in part because of the bad publicity from Nader’s book and consumer lawsuits; the blame for rollovers was the vehicle’s suspension system.
Besides auto safety, Nader would go on to advocate for consumer’s other areas of causes that included drug and food safety. He also tried several times to run as a third-party candidate for President of the United States but was unsuccessful. One of Kovacs’ children, in a bitter coincidence, would eventually die in an auto accident.