Redefining risks and redistributing responsibilities: Building networks to increase automobile safety

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


This article draws on the history of automobile safety in the United States to illustrate how technical design has been used to promote or maintain duties, values, and ethics. It examines two specific episodes: the debates over the "crash avoidance" and "crash-worthiness" approaches in the 1960s and the responses to the accusation that air bags were killing dozens of people in the mid-1990s. In each of these debates, certain auto safety advocates promoted the development of technologies designed to circumvent, replace, or compensate for "irresponsible" human actions because they believed that devices and techniques would be considerably more obedient and reliable than the American public. Other organizations, however, contested such reallocations because they also involved a shift in responsibilities throughout the rest of the sociotechnical network of auto safety. This article argues that those who controlled the precise definition of risk in auto safety had the upper hand in constructing both the solution to the problem and the distribution of responsibilities the solution entailed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)377-405
Number of pages29
JournalScience Technology and Human Values
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Air bags
  • Automobile safety
  • Responsibility
  • Risk
  • Technological networks

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Philosophy
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Human-Computer Interaction


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