Auto Safety: So Much for So Little


I have never known a man who did so much in return for so little.

For decades, Clarence Ditlow fought automakers in courts, in Congress, and in the press. As the formal leader for the nonprofit Center for Auto Safety and the spiritual leader of all who wanted to make cars safe, his work saved thousands of lives. Clarence battled automakers and regulators constantly, effectively, and indefatigably. Though confronted daily by the callous attitudes of most automakers and many regulators, Clarence never allowed disgust to give way to despair.

That is courage.

We might ask why he did it. Others around him, many of whom were less talented and energetic, found lucrative careers as lobbyists, tort lawyers, or executives. Clarence ignored opportunities for personal glory and fortune. He seems never to have considered them. He worked at his cause. He thought it was right—and that, apparently, was the end of the matter.

Today I will attend Clarence’s memorial service in Washington DC, the scene of most of his great battles. Tomorrow, as the last board member that Clarence appointed to the Center for Auto Safety, I will attend the first board meeting that we have held since his passing. Our task, and the task of all consumer advocates, will be to avoid the temptation to spend our time lionizing Clarence—which he would have derided as useless. We must instead do as he always did: buckle down and get to work.

– Jeb Butler