In the late 1960s ford designed a subcompact, the Pinto, weighing less than 2,000
pounds and selling for less than $2,000. Anxious to compete with foreign-made subcompacts,
Ford brought the car into production in a little more than two years (compared with the
usual three and on-half years). Given this shorter time frame, styling preceded much of
the engineering, thus restricting engineering design more than usual. As a result, it was
decided that the best place for the gas tank was between the rear axle and the bumper. The
differential housing had exposed bolt heads that could puncture the gas tank if the tank
were driven forward against them upon rear impact.
In court the crash tests were described in this way:
These prototypes as well as two production Pintos were crash tested by Ford to
determine, among other things, the integrity of the fuel system in rearend accidents....
Prototypes struck from the rear with a moving barrier at 21-miles-per-hour caused the fuel
tank to be driven forward and to be punctured, causing fuel leakage.... A production Pinto
crash tested at 21-miles-per-hour into a fixed barrier caused the fuel tank to be torn
from the gas tank and the tank to be punctured by a bolt head on the differential housing.
In at least one test, spilled fuel entered the drivers compartment....
Ford also tested rear impact when rubber bladders were installed in the tank, as well
as when the tank was located above rather than behind the rear axle. Both passed the
twenty-mile-per-hour rear impact tests.
Although the federal government was pressing to stiffen regulations on gas tank
designs, Ford contented that the Pinto met all applicable federal safety standards at the
time. J.C. Echold, director of automotive safety for ford, issued a study entitled
"Fatalities Associated with Crash Induced Fuel Leakage and Fires." This study
claimed that the costs of improving the design ($11 per vehicle) outweighed its social
benefits. A memorandum attached to the report described the costs and benefits in this
||180 burn deaths, 180 serious burn injuries, 2,100 burned vehicles
||$200,000 per death, $67,000 per injury, $700 per vehicle
|| 180 x $200,000
180 x $67,000
+ 2100 x $700
||11 million cars, 1.5 million light trucks
||$11 per car, $11 per truck
|| 11,000,000 x $11
1,500,000 x $11
The estimate of the number of deaths, injuries, and damage to vehicles was based on
statistical studies. The $200,00 for the loss of a human life was based on a national
Highway Traffic Safety administration study, which estimated social costs of a death in
|Future productivity losses
|Legal and court
|Victim's pain and suffering
|Assets (lost consumption)
|Miscellaneous accident cost
|Total per Fatality
Discuss the appropriateness of using figures like the above in Fords deciding
whether or not to make a safety improvement in its engineering design. If you believe this
is not appropriate, what would you suggest as an alternative? What responsibilities do you
think engineers have in situations like this?