Clarence M. Ditlow III, long-time auto safety advocate, dies

WASHINGTON (AP) — Clarence M. Ditlow III, the executive director of the Center for Auto Safety whose work over four decades forced the auto industry to make important safety and consumer improvements, including installing air bags, has died.

Ditlow died at George Washington University Hospital on Thursday of colon cancer, the center said. He was 72.

FILE - In this March 2, 2010 file photo, Center for Auto Safety Executive Director Clarence Ditlow, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington. Ditlow, whose work forced the auto industry to make improvements including installing air bags, has died. The center announced Ditlow’s death at the George Washington University Hospital in a post on its website. He was 72. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)
FILE – In this March 2, 2010 file photo, Center for Auto Safety Executive Director Clarence Ditlow, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)

Ditlow joined the center, founded by consumer advocate Ralph Nader, in the early 1970s. His work there helped lead to the passage of the federal “lemon law” empowering consumers to force automakers to take back faulty vehicles. He told a conference on legal empowerment this year that before the law, the auto industry was taking back about 500 cars a year. Today, it takes back 100,000 a year, he said, creating an incentive for automakers to improve quality.

Ditlow also played major roles in dozens of safety recalls, from 1.5 million Ford Pintos with exploding gas tanks in the late 1970s to Fiat Chrysler jeeps with a similar problem more recently. One of his most important and hard-fought battles was to get air bags installed in every car, which the center finally won in 1994 after taking its case against the Reagan administration to court a decade earlier.

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