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Ethics: An Alternative Account of the Ford Pinto Case

Mark P. Rossow, PhD, PE Retired

Course Outline

This two-hour online course begins with a discussion of some history: 1) the American auto industry’s views on safety at the time of the design of the Pinto; 2) the effect of passage of the Motor Vehicle Safety Act in 1966 and the creation of NHTSA; 3) the development of the Pinto design and the influence of NHTSA’s fuel-system safety standards; and 4) prominent events that occurred once Pinto entered the marketplace.  After the historical sketch, the course proceeds to the analysis of claims made about the safety of the Pinto.  The purpose of Ford’s crash tests, the intent and actual use of the notorious Pinto Memo, the justification for using cost-benefit analysis, the impossibility of achieving “absolute safety,” and the actual safety record of the Pinto are discussed.

This course includes a multiple-choice quiz at the end, which is designed to enhance the understanding of the course materials.

Learning Objective

This course teaches the following specific knowledge and skills:

Intended Audience

This course is intended for engineers concerned with ethical decision-making in making design trade-offs involving the safety of the public.

Benefit to Attendees

A person completing this course will be familiar with and able to apply principles of acceptable risk, trade-offs of safety and cost, and cost-benefit analysis in designing systems and devices in which public safety is a concern.

Course Introduction

The Ford Pinto case is today considered a classic example of corporate wrong-doing and is a mainstay of courses in engineering ethics, business ethics, philosophy, and the sociology of white-collar crime.  In this course, the factual support for the conventional account will be examined. 

Course Content

This course is based on the document, “Ethics: An Alternative Account of the Ford Pinto Case,” written by Mark P. Rossow, September, 2015.

Ethics: An Alternative Account of the Ford Pinto Case

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Course Summary

The facts of the Ford Pinto case are described, public misconceptions of these facts identified, and an alternative account of the case given.

Related Links

For additional technical information related to this subject, please visit the following websites or web pages:


Once you finish studying the above course content, you need to take a quiz to obtain the PDH credits.

DISCLAIMER: The materials contained in the online course are not intended as a representation or warranty on the part of PDH Center or any other person/organization named herein. The materials are for general information only. They are not a substitute for competent professional advice. Application of this information to a specific project should be reviewed by a registered architect and/or professional engineer/surveyor. Anyone making use of the information set forth herein does so at their own risk and assumes any and all resulting liability arising therefrom.