Here's a very partial list of ways you could die violently in a car before 1965: being impaled by a steering column that didn't collapse upon impact, having your body smashed by a dashboard without padding, veering off the road when a shiny chrome interior blinded your vision, falling out of a rear-hinging "suicide door,"flying through the windshield in an accident because nothing was holding you inside the car.

All these were common until Ralph Nader published his book "Unsafe At Any Speed," which hit the shelves 50 years ago this week.

The book—which accused the auto industry of knowing about dangerous features of its cars and actively opposing efforts to fix them—upended the way autos were manufactured in the United States drastically and practically immediately. In less than a year after it was released, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration was created, and in 1968 President Lyndon Johnson signed a law requiring all vehicles except buses to be fitted with seat belts. Some estimates suggest that the addition of those belts and other safety features has saved the lives of over 3.5 million Americans since.

Nader's book, according to Harvard historian Nancy Koehn, forced automakers to consider the safety of their consumers as a primary concern in the design and manufacturing their products.

"The engineers themselves were all about shiny, new exciting fast, forgive me, 'toys,'" said Koehn. "That was the dominant mindset. Nader really pulled that out and said: 'wait a minute! This can no longer remain the only mindset.'"

To hear more from Nancy Koehn, tune in to her full interview on Boston Public Radio above.