Z. Taylor Vinson; NHTSA lawyer an expert on history of cars

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Z. Taylor Vinson, 76, a longtime lawyer for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration who was also an internationally known automobile historian, died Oct. 25 of myelodysplasia at Inova Alexandria Hospital. He lived in Alexandria.

Mr. Vinson came to Washington in the early 1960s to work for the International Finance Corp., which provides investment and financing arrangements for international development projects. He joined the new U.S. Department of Transportation in 1967 and was the senior lawyer with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration until his retirement in 2003.

He had a major role in drafting the regulation requiring high-mounted brake lights in the rear windows of automobiles, beginning with the 1986 model year. Shortly before his retirement, he helped write safety regulations governing tires.

Zachary Taylor Vinson was born in Martinsburg, W.Va., and was a graduate of the private Woodberry Forest School near Orange, Va. He was a 1955 graduate of Princeton University, served in the Army and worked in advertising in New York before graduating from the University of Virginia law school in 1961. He was president of an international law society at U-Va.

Before coming to Washington, he worked in Los Angeles with the O'Melveny & Myers law firm.

Mr. Vinson had a lifelong interest in automobiles and had collected automotive catalogues and other materials since the 1940s. He built a wing on his house to accommodate his collection.

He was president of the Society of Automotive Historians in the 1990s and was editor of its Automotive History Review from 1995 to 2009. He attended auto shows around the world for decades and often consulted with the National Museum of American History and other museums about matters of automotive history.

Mr. Vinson was a member of the Order of First Families of Virginia and the Order of St. John, an international charitable group. He served on the advisory board of the Woodberry Forest School and also enjoyed square-dancing.

Survivors include a brother and two sisters.

-- Matt Schudel

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