Are Sport Utility Vehicles dangerous predators of the road, or are they the hapless victim getting a bad rap for their size and power? The world it seems is made up of two kinds of drivers; those who hate the SUV, and those who love it. Their reasons differ from person to person on both sides. In the United States alone, SUV’s account for 12% of the registered vehicles on the road. That’s a 3% jump over the ever-popular Mini Van, in a country where the “Soccer Mom” is legendary. In this same country where the population is 253 million registered vehicles, that’s a difference of over 7.5 million and that’s huge. But why do so many people buy an SUV in the first place, when they are known for their ability to suck down fuel like a Hollywood actor sucks down a bottle of Jack the night before heading off to court-ordered rehab?
Here are a few points to ponder: The towing capabilities of SUV’s are outstanding for a passenger vehicle. They can easily haul up to 2500 pounds while carting dad, mom and three kiddos off to their favorite camping spot, in relative car-like comfort. If you have a trailer, dirt bikes or Quad, the SUV can’t be beat for getting where you want to go and who wouldn’t want a big, roomy space and luggage rack for hauling personal effects when going to a favorite home away from home? A sense of safety for the driver and his/her family is a popular reason for owning and driving an SUV. People have a funny way of thinking bigger is better, and like the sense of security that comes from driving a burly vehicle over the cute little sports car, even if the sports car gets much better gas mileage. The ability to sit higher up and see everything just that much better is another factor which weighs in heavily for many SUV owners. Since many SUV’s are four-wheel-drive equipped, those snowy trudges up hillsides won’t be quite so nerve-wracking as might be in the average family-size sedan as Fran Wood points out in her essay, “Attacks On SUV Owners Are Driving Me Up The Wall”. And when it comes to fun, a good old romp in the mud, all you need is your SUV and a good set of Bigfoot tires to set you right!
But what is it about the SUV that seems to get some drivers’ panties in a bunch? Writer, Paul Craig Roberts points out in his article, “Fuel Economy Laws Bite Back” the problem of being in a standard automobile at night, only to have a set of headlights blinding you from the rear-view mirror, which is caused by the higher position of the SUV’s headlights. Naturally, the problem is the same with oncoming traffic of any sort, and yet the average night time driver seems to believe only SUV’s are to blame for this phenomenon. Interestingly, many a cars are now equipped with those blazingly bright blue lights that will burn the average human retina, should he or she stare long enough. At night on a curving levee road, while deciding between going blind or wrecking our cars, most of us don’t think to ask what make and model the culprit vehicle is. Mr. Roberts also points out those SUV drivers are more inclined toward aggressive driving habits as a direct result of having a bigger, more intimidating vehicle, thus causing more damage and injury to the other, more responsible, smaller vehicle drivers on the road. Indeed, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s National Center for Statistics and Analysis shows an increase in of 382 fatalities from 2014 to 2015 for accidents involving SUV’s where passenger car occupant fatalities increased by 681 in that same time period. Whether the higher incidence of passenger car fatalities is a direct result of reckless driving on the part of the SUV driver is unclear, but the data does show that most were caused by alcohol-impaired driving on the part of the standard passenger car operator, many of whom were unrestrained by a conventional seatbelt system.
Another issue many economy car owners are troubled with is the environmental impact. While there are several models of economy and hybrid cars on the road, the chances of finding an SUV with this feature is slim to none. Though the SUV’s fuel efficiency is better now than twenty years ago, the SUV is still considered a gas guzzler, and frowned upon by the environmentally conscious. For example, a 1997 Chevy Blazer SUV got about 15 mpg city/20 mpg hwy, where the same year and manufacturer sedan, the 1997 Chevy Lumina got 18 mpg city/26 mpg hwy, which all comes out to mean more fossil fuel used, more fossil fuel burned, and more pollution created by the SUV as opposed to the sedan. By comparison, the 2017 Chevy Equinox FWD SUV gets 21 city/31 hwy, and the 2017 Chevy Malibu gets 27 city/36 hwy. Fortunately in 2017, even with the obvious gap between SUV and Sedan those numbers look better on both sides of the coin, and in fact the car makers are ever working on more environmentally friendly options for all makes and models.
When and how the great divide among drivers of passenger cars and SUV’s began we may never know. As for who drives the culprit-in-question SUV, women are more likely to choose an SUV over the standard passenger vehicle or even the typical so-called “mom mobile” minivan. Statistically and historically speaking, men are the more aggressive of the sexes, (aka the hunter/protector of the species) yet men are more apt to choose big trucks or flashy sports cars. So who is at fault in the grand scheme of dangerous vehicles: the SUV or its driver? Certainly the vehicle itself is an inanimate object that can do no harm until there’s a driver behind the wheel, and a key in the ignition. Whether that driver is male, female, aggressive, passive, alcohol-impaired or a sober teetotaler, one thing is certain – the SUV is here to stay.
Wood, Fran. “Attacks On SUV Owners Are Driving Me Up The Wall”, Reading and Writing Short Arguments, edited by William Vesterman, 5th ed., McGraw-Hill, 2006, pp. 73-74
Roberts, Paul Craig. “Fuel Economy Laws Bite back” Reading and Writing Short Arguments, edited by William Vesterman, 5th ed., McGraw-Hill, 2006, pp.75-76
NHTSA’s National Center for Statistics and Analysis | 1200 New Jersey Avenue SE., Washington, DC 20590 https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/812318
US Dept. of Energy | Compare Side-by-Side https://www.fueleconomy.gov