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Jewish World Review July 21, 2000/ 18 Tamuz, 5760

Marianne M. Jennings

Marianne M. Jennings
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Consumer Reports

SUVs: The root of all evil -- MY HOME TOWN is number three in the nation for the number of deaths from red light violations. No one has been able to explain why Mesa, AZ., home of the Buckhorn Mineral Wells Motel, should spawn so many renegades. Bewildered engineers and flummoxed officials fail to grasp the root of all evil. SUVs cause red light violations as well as AIDS in Africa.

The demonization of SUVs began in 1990 when the Feds realized the drive, as it were, for fuel efficiency had collided head-on with auto safety.

Narrower, shorter, lighter cars roll over more, are subject to greater damage when hit, and have higher death rates. Environmentalists' response was, "Live with it."

Recognizing that life was not in the cards unless they could rustle up enough 1967 El Dorado gun boats, drivers resorted to SUVs. Big, bulky, stylish, without risk of trailing druggies that travels to the inner city in the El Dorado bring, and safe, the SUV began its march, at 50 feet per gallon, to conquer sagging auto sales. Capturing the hearts of everyone from outdoors men to Dianne Feinstein (proud owner of three Jeeps), SUVs ruled the showrooms and highways. Indeed, that was the idea — that Nissans would scurry for cover like cockroaches, although less durable, when a Land Cruiser headed their way.

The environmentalists were outraged and their campaign to turn SUV owners into a collective Faustus was ratcheted up to a frenzy. The SUV became the left's litmus test for ethics. Environmentalists have portrayed SUV owners as the same sorts of slobs who smoked when the greenies battled for "No smoking" ordinances and smoke-free environments. Once they had banished smokers to camps outside of buildings, they embraced them as poor ignorants so as to hijack tobacco companies for health care reimbursement and punitive damages. First you ban the product, then you collect on the backs of the slovenly addicts.

Presently, SUV owners are in the beer-bellied ne'er-do-well stage. These consumers of massive quantities of fossil fuels need their come-uppance.

Hey, hey, ho, ho SUVs have got to go! Public chastisements drip with disdain. Columnist Ellen Goodman is intimidated by SUVs in her righteous small car. She didn't specify her car model. Perhaps something cobbled together with macrame in the Ukraine by women who were beaten during the Super Bowl. The Automotive Club of Southern California issued a warning that SUV drivers "operate under the false illusion that they can ignore the common rules of the road." Evil, bad SUVs!

The movement against SUVs has been brilliant PR. Environmentalists have equated SUV ownership with a ticket to hell. Character Counts! founder Michael Josephson drives a Lincoln Navigator and all but apologized to a Los Angeles Times reporter doing a story on the "beasts." The same reporter interviewed me and wondered how I reconciled teaching ethics and driving an SUV. Saddle me up with some bribes for Lucifer for I and my Suburban have sinned.

The left continually redefines ethics for political expediency. That emotional component results because they are impervious to facts. Consider the following SUV myths:

1. Myth: SUVs are killing people at rate comparable to bubonic plague, slamming into small vehicles, causing death and dismemberment, and probably on purpose. Fact: If you're killed in a small car, it's probably because another small car hit you. 56% of all small-car fatalities involved only small cars. 46% of small car fatalities occurred when the driver hit something other than a another vehicle. Only 1% (that's 136 of 12,144 small car deaths) involved small car collisions with BOTH mid-size cars and SUVs. Small cars make up 9.3% of the cars on the road, but are involved in 53% of all accidents and 37% of all traffic fatalities. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's director says, "If you want to solve the safety puzzle, get rid of small cars."

2. Myth: Small cars pollute less than big cars. Fact: The federal standards are the same for all cars and the regs are written in "grams per mile," not grams per gallon. No matter what the size of the car or its engine, it cannot pollute more than the federal-per-mile standards.

3. Myth: SUVs weigh more and have bigger engines. A Lincoln Town Car with a V-8 engine enjoys no wrath from the anti-SUVites despite its weight being nearly the same as or more than most SUVs. A Suburban is about 100 pounds more than a Tahoe but is perceived as more evil.

4. Myth: SUV drivers are more reckless and likely to violate the law. Fact: SUV drivers are the wimps of the road. Their profile: they make over $100,000 each year and many don't even know how to get their SUVs into four-wheel drive. The greatest risk for accidents, traffic violations, and fatalities comes from unlicensed drivers, not SUV drivers who are not only licensed and insured drivers, but also Einstein-Bagels-frequent-buyer-card carriers. If we really want to prevent fatal accidents we should simply wear seat belts.

The Sierra Club once referred to SUVs as "the Joe Camel of the auto industry," meaning that the SUV is the emotional focal point that puts an industry at the mercy of moralizing fussbudgets who seek zero population growth, mass transit, and cars powered ala Fred Flintstone.

The die is cast. False facts and emotion mean SUVs are under siege until we all paddle around in Neons. My family of six and I will require four blessed small cars (with air bags children can't ride in the front) to travel congested highways sans SUVs. But heaven awaits us.

JWR contributor Marianne M. Jennings is a professor of legal and ethical studies at Arizona State University. Send your comments by clicking here.


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© 2000, Marianne M. Jennings