When President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act on this date in 1966, American roads were deadly places.
Car crashes were the leading cause of death for people under 40 years of age, and at more than 50,000 killed every year, the freeways and side roads inflicted an annual death toll almost equal to Americans lost during the entire Vietnam war.
Thanks to the efforts of Ralph Nader, the bills had passed Congress unanimously, creating a sense of urgency. "We are going to cut down this senseless loss of lives," Johnson said at the signing. "We are going to cut down the pointless injury. We are going to cut down the heartbreak.”
And it did, eventually saving thousands of lives a year, although not without endless legal and bureaucratic battles that continue today. That era also spawned scores of auto safety and public service films, including this rare one produced in 1968 by AT&T called "Memento" that captures the toll of the times: