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Jewish World Review Jan. 17, 2003 / 14 Shevat, 5763

Bill Steigerwald

Bill Steigerwald
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Consumer Reports

New Republic fans hatred for SUVs | For years, it has been socially and politically cool to hate SUVs.

Thanks to the constant scolding of our social betters in the Hollywood-Manhattan-Beltway Axis of Good, we know that SUVs - sport-utility vehicles - are really just for bullies, morons, head-cases, showoffs, status seekers, sociopaths and anti-environmentalist wackos.

Now, as we go to war in Iraq, we are being told that when you drive a gas-guzzling Ford Himalaya, you are unpatriotic because you are putting money in the oily pockets of terrorists such as Osama bin Laden.

Unfortunately, that fallacious bit of Hollywood logic is part of the anti-SUV arguments delivered by Gregg Easterbrook in his New Republic cover piece, "Axel of Evil, America's Twisted Love Affair with Sociopathic Cars."

Easterbrook normally is one of the most sensible environmental writers toiling in the pages of liberal think mags.

But he apparently hates SUVs so much he can find virtually nothing good to say about them or their owners, which are disproportionately women, rich suburbanites and wealthy people in New York, D.C. and southern California.

Easterbrook's lengthy piece is actually a long, and highly favorable, review of "High and Mighty: SUVs - The World's Most Dangerous Vehicles and How They Got That Way" (by a former New York Times Detroit bureau chief, Keith Bradsher).

According to the uncharacteristically hysterical Easterbrook, SUVs apparently cause everything evil in America except acne and potholes: increased road rage, traffic congestion, bad air, over-dependence on Arab oil and thousands of unnecessary traffic deaths.

They even consume excess parking space (although the gentle Honda minivan Easterbrook drives apparently does not). And wait till wild teenagers and accident-prone immigrants start driving used SUVs.

And, of course, the fools who buy SUVs by the millions are being duped by malevolent Detroit advertising campaigns into thinking they are safe, when SUVs really are all too tall, don't handle well, have lousy brakes, roll over too easily and are poorly designed pieces of junk.

Easterbrook's review nicely explains the causes of the things we hate most about SUVs, which in their infancy were officially classified as light trucks by bureaucrats so that they could dodge federal gas mileage and pollution rules.

SUVs owe their size and safety flaws and gas-guzzling ways, as Easterbrook shows, to "perverse" federal laws combined with the power of Detroit lobbyists and their bipartisan congressional hirelings in Washington to create loopholes big enough to drive a Chevy Tahoe through.

His piece contains a lot of valuable data: Half of car sales are SUVs or pickups, their equally vile light-truck cousins; half of SUV drivers are women; and four-wheel drive is overrated for road conditions, even in snow.

But Easterbrook often sounds more like Leonardo DiCaprio than a rational, fair-minded journalist intent on sorting out facts from fictions.

SUVs are far from perfect. But they aren't all as badly built as the American-made behemoths Easterbrook concentrates his righteousness on. And their owners aren't all unfortunate victims of advertising or transformed into pychos by the design of their scary front hoods.

In fact, much of what makes SUVs such a road pain to Honda Civic drivers is the fault of their tailgating or reckless drivers. Easterbrook might have made that point, if he weren't so blinded with SUV rage.

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JWR contributor Bill Steigerwald is an associate editor and columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Comment by clicking here.

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© 2002, Bill Steigerwald