In the first part of our story we exploded some myths that SUV owners pathetically cling to in their hopeless search to find meaning in their empty lives while not acknowledging even to themselves that they are nothing more than mindless sheep following the latest consumer trend no matter how pointless or dangerous to those around them it may be. Continuing on:
THE MYTH THAT SUV DANGERS ARE A “MYTH”
Predictably, the growing evidence that SUVs are little more than land mines on wheels has met with resistance from the pro-SUV crowd. In spite of the overwhelming statistical proof already mentioned (which is about as black and white as you can get), there are those who still try to deny there’s a problem. But then again, some still try to deny the Holocaust happened, too, proving that the SUV apologists don’t have a monopoly on social irresponsibility and lack of logical thinking.
Every article I found which calls SUV hazards a “myth” follows the same logic as a study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). This study begrudgingly admits the “aggressivity” statistics I’ve previously quoted are true (although it relegates them to the last page of the report), and concedes
So a key question is, do car occupant deaths occur relatively more often in collisions with utility vehicles or pickups of a given weight than in collisions with other cars of the same weight? The answer is yes.
But then it points out that LTV-car fatalities represent only about 15 percent of the total number of car accident fatalities. It seems single-car accidents account for many more deaths each year, so that LTV-car fatalities “don’t represent a major highway safety problem from a societal perspective.” Sort of a “yes, these things are killers, but enough people haven’t died yet to really worry about it” type of approach. Now first of all, let me assure you that although the IIHS may be “non-profit,” that doesn’t mean it’s impartial. The agency is wholly funded by the insurance industry, and its purpose for being is to save insurance companies money. What this report is essentially saying is that LTV-car crashes don’t cost the insurance companies as much money as single-car crashes, so let’s focus our efforts on reducing single-car fatalities. If you doubt the true motives of the IIHS. SUVs are classified as light trucks and are therefore exempt from meeting the federal bumper and side impact requirements imposed on passenger cars. (You mean they never mentioned this in the commercials?) The article makes it clear that the IIHS finds the fragile bumpers on SUVs appalling, but not for safety reasons. Their concern is the exhorbitant sums insurance companies must shell out to fix them when they break.
So, getting back to the IIHS report, pushing for increased safety features in cars is certainly not shameful. But the SUV apologists have deliberately misrepresented the statistics to try to argue that SUV hazards to cars are insignificant. I can answer this in two ways. First of all, the total number of fatalities attributed to defective tires in the recent Ford/Firestone case is (as of this writing) somewhere around 100. Statistically speaking, those 100 deaths represent only a very small fraction of the number of people killed in SUVs each year. Can we therefore conclude there is not a problem, or that it simply isn’t worth trying to fix? If so, the chairmen of Ford and Firestone would be delighted to hear they’re recalling 6 1/2 million tires for nothing. But the fact is, 100 unnecessary deaths are 100 too many, and 2000 unnecessary deaths due to LTVs each year are 2000 too many.
But there’s also a second problem with their logic. Most (if not all) single-car accidents involve a large amount of culpability on the part of the driver. Elements such as alcohol consumption, not wearing a seat belt, and driving too fast for road conditions are present in a very high percentage of single-car fatalities. I personally never drink and drive, always wear a seat belt, obey the speed limit (although I realize this is somehow un-American), and keep my car well-maintained. In short, the chances of me (and others like me) having a serious one-car accident are slightly less than the chances of NASA having a successful Mars mission, which is to say practically nil. The primary dangers to us on the road come in the form of other vehicles, and if certain of those vehicles are proven to be inordinately hazardous to us, we have the right to complain about it. Comparing single-car accident rates with two-vehicle accident rates is as pointless as comparing firearm suicides to firearm homicides. In each case, the causes and corrective actions are completely different.
When, in February 1998, the NHSTA decided to conduct some special crash tests to determine once and for all if LTVs posed more risk to passenger cars than a car of equal weight, all the major TV networks planned to be on hand to videotape the events. This was, after all, important news, and an issue weighing heavily on the minds of many citizens. Unfortunately, the automakers screamed bloody murder when they heard the American public might actually be shown in living color what an SUV does to a car when it slams into it at 35 miles per hour. So the NHSTA caved into their pressure, and the tests were conducted away from the public eye.
What were the test results? As summarized by the Associated Press after a second round of tests the following year:
The [1999 frontal collision] results were similar to those of last year’s side-impact crash tests involving the same models. In nearly every injury measurement, the driver dummy in the Accord sustained greater injuries in 35-mph crashes with the pickup, minivan and SUV than it did in a crash with the other sedan.
One of the leading reasons people give for owning an SUV is they want to “feel safe.” I can’t begin to express to you how much this attitude pisses me off. Because what they’re really saying is they want to feel safe by riding in a vehicle so large and heavy that, in the event of an accident, the passengers of the other vehicle will absorb all of the injuries. Don’t bother trying to tell me SUV drivers aren’t aware of the dangers they’re posing to other people. Anyone who sees an Explorer parked next to a real car knows exactly what would happen if the two collided. What’s worse, it’s this awareness that is actually the true selling point of the vehicle. When confronted with this, the SUV driver will typically squirm, and say, “I’m a careful driver, so I’ll never have an accident.” But if they’re driving an SUV to “feel safe,” that means they’re already thinking in terms of surviving a crash. If you’re never going to get into an accident, you’d be just as safe riding in a hatchback, now wouldn’t you?
The irony is that crash fatalities are not necessarily a “me or him” situation. If both vehicles are cars, safety devices such as crumple zones, seat belts, and air bags all have a fighting chance to serve their purpose, and the occupants of both cars may walk away or escape with minor injuries. But this isn’t good enough for the SUV driver, who will only stray out into traffic if the odds are so overwhelmingly in his favor that all of the injuries in the event of a crash will happen to the other people. How is this different from being a coward?
None of us wants to be in the Civic which gets creamed by an SUV. But the difference between me and the SUV driver is that I’d no more want to be in that SUV either. I have no desire to live the rest of my life with someone else’s death on my conscience, knowing that everyone might have walked away from the crash had the scales been balanced a little more fairly.
Other lame excuses:
“But I have a 3-year-old daughter to protect.” So what you’re really saying is that your 3-year-old daughter has more of a right to grow up than the 3-year-old daughters of your neighbors who drive normal cars. I’m sure you step out of your SUV and immediately begin complaining how people don’t show consideration for anyone else any more.
“It’s their own fault if they drive a small car. They know the risks.” If a mother loses her child because an SUV smashed into the passenger side and overroad the door sill, I’m not going to be the one to tell her at the funeral it was her fault for not being able to afford a bigger car.
“If it bothers you so much, get an SUV yourself.” Believe it or not, I’ve really heard people say this. So if I don’t feel like being crushed beneath the wheels of one of those bloated heaps of metal, the solution is for me to buy one myself and pose a similar threat to everyone else? Aside from the fact that I don’t relish the idea of buying a vehicle with all the styling of a cardboard box, that rides like a 10-year-old truck even when it’s new, and is barely worth half its invoice price (never mind the outrageous markup), buying an SUV to save yourself from other SUVs won’t work. Take another look at that red SUV in Part 1 (or what’s left of it). SUVs don’t provide much safety when they’re picking on something their own size. They’re adept at killing the occupants of cars, and that’s about the limit of their talents. But let’s say, for the sake of argument, that I and everyone else did buy SUVs. This wouldn’t solve the problem, since now all the original SUV drivers would no longer “feel safe” because they’d lack an unfair advantage. So they would go out and buy even bigger SUVs. (As stupid as this sounds, it’s really happening – just look at the sales for Chevy Suburbans and Ford Expeditions.) Hell, why don’t we all just drive army tanks? The true losers in all of this (besides the environment) are those families who are unable to afford these wasteful vehicles and who make do with ordinary passenger cars. The same cars everyone used to manage with quite well before SUVs became one of life’s “necessities.”
So let’s see. You block other motorists’ views of oncoming danger in order that you can “see better.” It’s illegal for me to drive behind another car with my high beams on, but your low beams produce the identical effect, and that’s supposedly okay. And wherever you go, your presence poses a proven hazard to other motorists on the road. Buddy, if you drive an SUV, you don’t have the right to complain about anything.
But so far I’ve been doing all the talking. In the interests of fairness, I’ll let various SUV lovers from around the internet speak in their own defense. Go ahead and click the link – we’ll be here when you get back.
In May, 2000, the Ford Motor Company admitted publicly what SUV critics have been saying for years:
In a 98-page book, “Connecting With Society,” the company concedes that SUVs burn more gas and emit more pollution than cars and can pose a danger to smaller vehicles in crashes… The book even quotes a Sierra Club press release that “the gas-guzzling SUV is a rolling monument to environmental destruction.”
The irony of the situation is that this apparent attack of conscience comes only shortly after Ford released upon the world the biggest, most wasteful SUV ever built. Dubbed the “Excursion,” it’s 19 feet long, weighs something like 7000 lbs (3 1/2 tons, for crying out loud), and can’t fit in a standard garage or most public parking spaces. An obvious menace to every vehicle on the road short of an eighteen wheeler, the Excursion serves absolutely no purpose whatsoever except to scream “conspicuous consumer” and further what some have called “the arms race on America’s highways.” Is it any surprise SUV owners were crawling all over each other to buy one for their driveway in the cul-de-sac?
But then… something happened. Whether it was the Grinch’s heart growing three sizes that day, the ongoing rise in the price of gas, or maybe some consumers finally getting some sense knocked into their heads, sales of the Excursion went flatter than yesterday’s champagne. So much so that Ford recently announced it was curtailing production by 25% because of slumping demand. It’s attractive to think that the Excursion fiasco has finally laid bare the whole childish “I’m bigger than you” one-upmanship mentality of the SUV crowd. The vehicle itself looks ridiculous, having grown too huge to be of any use in the environment it was intended for. It’s a beached whale unable to breathe for its own oppressive weight bearing down on its lungs. It serves as a testament to human self-indulgence gone haywire. It would also be attractive to think this will mark the beginning of the end for the whole SUV fad – we’ve followed the trail to its logical conclusion and found a rotting carcass instead of a golden fleece. But I’m not optimistic.
In the meantime, automakers are finally making design changes to try to reduce the threat SUVs pose to smaller cars. I can only wonder how those who claim such a threat never existed now try to explain why the automakers themselves seem to believe differently:
General Motors Corp. says it will lower the underbody steel rails in the 2002 Oldsmobile Bravada, GMC Envoy, and Chevrolet Blazer. That will reduce the risk that the vehicles would smash over cars’ bumpers and doorsills. GM has already lowered rails in the Suburban and Tahoe… DaimlerChrysler AG will alter the 2002 Dodge Durango’s front end so it is less likely to override cars in collisions. Ford Motor Co. will lower underbody rails of its Explorer, Expedition, and Lincoln Navigator… The Toyota Sequoia will have impact-absorbing bars below the bumpers. Nissan, Honda, and Mitsubishi also have either made design changes or plan to.
And even our little friend, the Excursion, sports a tubular steel “blocker beam” to prevent cars from sliding underneath it in a crash. The effectiveness of these modifications has still to be proven in the field, and they’re coming years too late to save the thousands who’ve already been killed by these monstrosities, but at least some attention is finally being focused on the problem.
Meanwhile, the past couple of years have seen an increase in popularity of so-called “Mini Sport Utility” vehicles, such as the Toyota RAV4. At a very reasonable 2900 lbs. and a roofline only 5 feet, 5 inches above the road, such a vehicle would seem to provide the residents of Upper Buttcrack the utility they claim to need without being a major menace on the highway. Do I think such smaller SUVs will become the wave of the future? Not for a minute. Because there are way too many female SUV owners whose only real reason for driving an SUV is compensating for the penis they wish they had. And there are way too many male SUV owners whose only real reason for driving an SUV is, uh… compensating for the penis they wish they had. And for that, a small SUV simply just won’t do.
As this article was going to press (so to speak), I came across another telling tidbit of information. A 1997 article mentioned that insurers were raising their liability rates for SUV drivers by as much as $700 per year due to the increased number of death and injury claims these vehicles were causing. However, there was one dissenter:
A State Farm actuary notes that sport utility vehicles may actually save insurers money because they are more likely to kill the occupants of the automobile than to maim them. Serious injuries tend to yield bigger settlements than death.
But I have to admit the whole SUV issue has changed my perspective on a lot of the day-to-day aggravations of life. I no longer get quite as annoyed at the guy in the movie theater with the cell phone, or the woman paying by check in the “cash only” express line. Sure these people may be rude and thoughtless, but at least they’re not endangering the lives of everyone around them. Something to think about…
 “CRASH COMPATIBILITY: THE U.S. PERSPECTIVE”
 “Flimsy bumpers on SUVs fail to resist damage”
 “FUMING OVER GAS-GUZZLING SUVS”