The Value of a Life

The year is 1971 and you are cruising around town in your brand new Ford Pinto. With your car brilliantly glistening in the summer sunlight, today is perfection incarnate. As you swing around a particularly tight bend, your friend in the passenger seat reaches over and begins fumbling through the radio stations. Sadly, the two of you have never agreed when it comes to music. The traffic light ahead give you the perfect opportunity to take the radio back. You gently roll to a stop and slowly reach over to the radio…

You never noticed the car behind you…

In a sudden flash, blackness engulfs everything and your “perfect day” spirals out of control.


In the 1970’s the Ford Pinto was brand new to the consumer market place. Yet, even in its new and gilded condition, a dangerous flaw lurked beneath the surface. The Ford Pinto suffered from a structural flaw that allowed its fuel tank to be punctured in the event of a rear-end collision. Interestingly, the company was well aware of this explosive flaw yet ultimately chose to do nothing. This begs the question, why? The answer is oddly straightforward. It was simply more efficient to leave the flawed design and pay for the lawsuits as opposed to paying to redesign the Pinto at that point in its design. This event prompts ethical questions from all over the spectrum.

As an IDEAS student, every week we walk into seminar knowing full well that we are going to be faced with questions that will test and challenge our morals. As an engineer in today’s society, it is possible that we will be in a situation where we will have to make a decision that will challenge us on this same level.  Educating and discussing topics like these with our peers is what makes IDEAS so invaluable.


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