Photo courtesy of Center for Auto Safety
November 21, 2016.
American auto safety crusader and APA Board Member, Clarence Ditlow, passed away on November 10, of cancer. His career and contributions were reviewed extensively in the New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal, so I won`t repeat them here.
One of Clarence`s last great battles was to get the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) back on track. Writing in the summer of 2014, in the aftermath of the GM ignition switch recalls that occurred after more then 120 people died (and the NHTSA had opened and closed its file inconclusively years earlier), he wrote me to say it was "a fight for the soul of the organisation."
Clarence`s influence in Canada is less well known. Clarence thought Canada`s vehicle safety laws were weak. Our curious legislation requires only that an automaker send you a letter telling you your vehicle is dangerous. To a large extent, Canadians benefit from a free recall repair because it is required in the United States.
Clarence appeared many times on the Canadian national news. In 2014 and 2015, the media were having difficulty finding a Canadian expert to talk about ignition switches, partly because of the absence of reported incidents in Canada, and also because of restrictions placed on government officials communicating with the media. I asked Clarence to grant interviews to Canadian media on several occasions, and he always agreed to do so when he could. Clarence appeared on Canadian television so often in 2014-2015, that he became our national conscience on auto safety. To a considerable extent, the pressure from Clarence`s interviews and the relentless media reporting around the corporate negligence he was exposing in the United States finally contributed to the Harper government making amendments to our Motor Vehicle Safety Act (but still without a recall requirement).
In the autumn of 2015 Clarence had star appearances on CBC`s The Fifth Estate and on the French language investigative television show, Enquête. Both reports were sharply critical of Transport Canada. After Clarence`s passing, no one was more surprised than the undersigned to receive expressions of appreciation for Clarence`s work from insiders at Transport Canada! It`s a mark of the respect people in the vehicle safety community had for his work.
As an APA Board Member, Clarence had insight and brought huge experience and knowledge to the Association. Although his work was very demanding, Clarence volunteered his time to help advance consumer rights in Canada. He also understood that it was a different environment and adjusted his expectations accordingly. In return, it was always a privilege to share the APA`s Canadian information when we could support the Center for Auto Safety`s investigative work.
Clarence Ditlow was the epitome of dedication to the cause of auto safety. We continued corresponding until August of this year, and he never let on that he might be losing the battle for his health. In fact, only once did Clarence say he would be unavailable because he was undergoing chemotherapy. His passing is a loss to the cause of vehicle safety.
P.S. On Tuesday November 22, I will be appearing before the Senate Committee on Communications and Transportation in Ottawa to support amendments to Canada`s Motor Vehicle Safety Act that would see Transport Canada finally obtaining recall powers. Other proposed amendments include requiring automakers to provide a real-time look-up capability for open recalls, and enhancing government oversight to ensure recalls are performed in a timely manner.