David Halberstam, 73, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and best-selling author whose critical coverage of the Vietnam War influenced policy and public sentiment in the 1960s and 1970s, died yesterday in a car accident south of San Francisco.

Mr. Halberstam, a New York resident, also wrote about the civil rights movement, the automobile industry and sports.

He was a passenger in a car that was broadsided by another vehicle in Menlo Park, south of San Francisco, San Mateo County Coroner Robert Foucrault said. The cause of death appeared to be internal injuries, he said.

Mr. Halberstam was on his way to interview former quarterback Y.A. Tittle for a book on the 1958 NFL championship game between the Baltimore Colts and the New York Giants when he was killed. Three others were injured.

Perhaps the best-known of his books is The Best and the Brightest (1972), a searing epic of Vietnam-era policy blunders. The book provides revelatory detail on decisions President John F. Kennedy and President Lyndon B. Johnson made in the period leading up to the war and thereafter.

In 2005, Warren Bass wrote in the Washington Post's Book World: "Most accounts of insider decision-making have only limited shelf life, but The Best and the Brightest continues to captivate. The first reason is that it is a brilliant piece of reporting and writing, propelled by a young man's fury and ambition."

The second reason, Bass wrote, was that Mr. Halberstam proved to be a masterly student of policy.

In the early 1960s, Mr. Halberstam covered the Vietnam War for the New York Times, earning a Pulitzer Prize at age 30 in 1964. Out of that reporting came his book The Making of a Quagmire: America and Vietnam During the Kennedy Era (1965). The reporting was said to set the standard for a generation of Vietnam-era journalists.

He was born April 10, 1934, in New York City to a surgeon father and teacher mother. His father was in the military, and Mr. Halberstam moved around the country during his childhood.

He attended Harvard University, where he was managing editor of the Crimson newspaper.

After graduating in 1955, he began his career at a small daily in West Point, Miss. He went on to the Tennessean, in Nashville, where he covered the civil rights struggle, and then the New York Times, which sent him to Vietnam in 1962 to cover the growing crisis there.

Neil Sheehan, former Saigon bureau chief for United Press International, said he had lost his best friend, a man of enormous physical and mental energy who had "profound moral and physical courage."

"We were in Vietnam at a time when we were being denounced by those on high," Sheehan said. "There was tremendous pressure. David never buckled under it at all. He was capable of standing up to it. You could not intimidate David."

Sheehan recalled how Mr. Halberstam once called a general at home to get permission to fly to the site of a U.S. defeat. At a briefing the next day, a brigadier general scolded "pitiful, lowly young reporters" for having the temerity to call a general at home.

"General, you do not understand," Mr. Halberstam responded, according to Sheehan. "We are not corporals. We do not work for you. . . . We will call a commanding general any time at home we need to get our job done."

The general was flabbergasted, Sheehan said.

Mr. Halberstam quit daily journalism in 1967 and wrote 21 books covering such topics as civil rights and newspapers. His 2002 best-seller, War in a Time of Peace, was a runner-up for the Pulitzer in nonfiction.

Among his books on sports, he wrote Summer of '49 on the 1949 pennant race between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox and The Education of a Coach, on New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick.

The Coldest Winter, Mr. Halberstam's account of an important early battle in the Korean War, is to be published this fall.

Halberstam's Books

The Noblest Roman (1961)

The Making of a Quagmire: America and Vietnam During the Kennedy Era (1965)

One Very Hot Day (1967)

The Unfinished Odyssey of Robert F. Kennedy (1969)

Ho (1971)

The Best and the Brightest (1972)

The Powers That Be (1979)

The Breaks of the Game (1981)

The Amateurs: The Story of Four Young Men and Their Quest for an Olympic Gold Medal (1985)

The Reckoning (1986)

Summer of '49 (1989)

The Next Century (1991)

The Fifties (1993)

October 1964 (1994)

The Children (1999)

Playing for Keeps: Michael Jordan and the World He Made (1999)

War in a Time of Peace: Bush, Clinton, and the Generals (2001)

Firehouse (2002)

The Teammates: A Portrait of a Friendship (2003)

Bill Belichick: The Education of a Coach (2005)

The Coldest Winter (due in fall 2007)EndText

Read a David Halberstam interview on publication of his 2003 book, "The Teammates," via http://go.philly.com/halberstam EndText