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Status Report, Vol. 44, No. 6 | June 11, 2009 Subscribe

Donald Schaffer was a champion of front airbags

Allstate executive Donald L. Schaffer helped lead the drive by U.S. insurers and the Institute to make front airbags required safety gear in every car. Schaffer joined the Institute board in 1962 and served until 1987.

As chairman of the Institute's board of directors during 1968-69, he oversaw the organization's transformation from grant-making to a scientific research and communications group. He was at the helm when the board hired Dr. William Haddon Jr. as president.

Schaffer recognized that the new mission to reduce crash deaths and injuries as well as insurance losses would require detailed claims data plus vehicle research. In December 1968 he proposed that the Institute start collecting information on repair costs, saying "our voice will become much stronger if we have reliable data to back us up."

Allstate was an early proponent of airbags. During the decades-long fight to make them mandatory, Schaffer was a frequent visitor to Capitol Hill. He believed "passive restraints are essential" to protecting occupants in crashes. When automakers argued that airbags wouldn't be needed if people used safety belts, Schaffer countered that airbags were essential precisely because 80 percent of motorists didn't buckle up.

Schaffer, 84, died April 5, 2008, in Crete, Illinois. The World War II veteran joined Allstate in 1957 and was executive vice president, secretary, and general counsel when he retired in 1987. Prior to Allstate, Schaffer was a practicing attorney in Charleston, W.Va., and drafted the state's motor vehicle and insurance codes.

Institute president Adrian Lund observes, "As the Institute nears its 50th anniversary, it's important to recognize the contributions of those who helped set our course. Don was a tireless advocate for airbags. Tens of thousands of people are alive today because he and his peers refused to give up the long and good fight."

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