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Ethics: An Alternative Account of the Ford Pinto Case

Ethics: An Alternative Account of the Ford Pinto Case
Course Highlights

In this online engineering PDH course, the factual basis of the conventional account is examined and misconceptions held by the public are identified. Questions about the placement and design of the fuel tank are addressed. Data available in public records but rarely discussed by Pinto critics are presented showing that Pinto accident-fatality rates were slightly better than the average for automobiles of comparable size. The discussion is then rounded out by comments on various other criticisms that have been leveled at the Pinto, and an alternative account of the Pinto case is formulated which differs significantly from the conventional account.


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. The conventional account of the case holds that Ford engineers made a serious design error in locating the fuel tank behind the rear axle, leaving the Pinto vulnerable to disastrous fires in rear-end collisions. As crash-test and field data began to accumulate and reveal the danger, management made a deliberate decision not to modify the design, because doing so would harm corporate profits. Ford's decision was based on a cost-benefit analysis which balanced human lives against corporate profits.


This 3 PDH online course is intended for engineers concerned with ethical decision-making in making design trade-offs involving the safety of the public.

Learning Objectives

This PE continuing education course is intended to provide you with the following specific knowledge and skills:

  • Understanding the role of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in automobile design
  • Learning about the historical and legal development of crashworthiness as a requirement for engineering design
  • Understanding the complexity of design considerations in locating the fuel tank
  • Knowing the definition of "Risk" as the probability and severity of harm
  • Knowing the definition of "Safety" as acceptable risk
  • Understanding the necessity of trade-offs between cost and risk
  • Learning about the comparative fatality rates for subcompacts of the Pinto era
  • Understanding the need for and use of cost-benefit analysis
Course Document
In this professional engineering CEU course, you need to review the document titled, "Ethics: An Alternative Account of the Ford Pinto Case," written by Mark P. Rossow, September, 2015.
To view, print and study the course document, please click on the following link(s):
Ethics - An Alternative Account of the Ford Pinto Case (2.3 MB)
Course Quiz
Once you complete your course review, you need to take a multiple-choice quiz consisting of fifteen (15) questions to earn 3 PDH credits. The quiz will be based on the entire course document.
The minimum passing score is 70%. There is no time limit on the quiz, and you can take it multiple times until you pass at no additional cost.
Certificate of Completion

Upon successful completion of the quiz, print your Certificate of Completion instantly. (Note: if you are paying by check or money order, you will be able to print it after we receive your payment.) For your convenience, we will also email it to you. Please note that you can log in to your account at any time to access and print your Certificate of Completion.

To buy the course and take the quiz, please click on: