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Highway to Hell

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Recently, as I battled traffic on I-85 in my tiny vehicle, it suddenly occurred to me why so many people all around the globe despise Americans. As I strove to keep my car on the road in spite of the jerks in sport utility vehicles who were compelled to cut in front of me incessantly, I realized that it's our "bigger is better" mentality that makes us so thoroughly hated. For whatever reason, we seem to think that we're exempt from the rules of behavior that rule other countries and people, just as those SUV drivers seemed to think they were exempt from the driving regulations by which the rest of us abide. What says "bigger and better" more than SUVs? They're only getting bigger, as car companies compete to create the most enormous monstrosity with the most "tough guy" options such as driver's side make-up mirrors and built-in mochaccino holders.

And why do Americans drive SUVs? It's not because they have to go off-road or even because they're hauling around so many people that they just won't fit into a normal-sized car. Americans drive SUVs because they can. It's something like: "If I can afford a big ole honking SUV, then I darn well better buy one. How else will everyone know I can afford one?"

Sure, SUV drivers will give you all kinds of lame excuses as to why they need SUVs. They like to say that they have lots of kids to drive around, to soccer practice and whatnot, so they need a large vehicle. Maybe they do need a large vehicle, such as a minivan or a station wagon. But it's not like they hold soccer practice in a field 20 miles off the road anywhere, in which case an off-road vehicle might come in handy. But parents would rather drive SUVs than minivans or station wagons because they don't want to seem old. They think that having an SUV gives them all the advantages of the minivan, without the disadvantage of appearing to be somebody's old fart dad or doting mom. I have bad news for you parents out there driving SUVs. We all know you're a bunch of old fogey parents anyway. Come on, you glue soccer balls and "My child is an honor roll student" bumper stickers onto your vehicles. You aren't fooling anybody.

Other SUV drivers say the best reason for driving them is that they're safer. Parents in particular like to use this one. "I just want little Snotty to be safe while I'm driving on the big, bad highway!" This obviously explains why these safety-obsessed people drive like demons who frequently lose consciousness behind the wheel. SUV drivers are some of the worst drivers on the road. They cut in front of you when there's no space, they eschew blinkers almost entirely, and they ride your bumper even when you're already going too fast.

Of course, they have the luxury of being able to drive like morons. What happens if they do sideswipe a tiny Honda in the next lane? Or if they plow into a little Toyota? The SUV may sustain damage and the owner of the vehicle may have to deal with rising insurance rates, but at least he walks away from the accident alive. Meanwhile, the poor soul in the normal person-sized car is dead or, at the very least, her car is totaled.

It's as though there's now a feudal system on our roadways. Those of us who can't afford, or who aren't willing to purchase, SUVs are placed at the mercy of those hulking machines at the risk of our very lives. I can't imagine how even the most ardent capitalist could possibly support the right of the rich to run over the poor with large vehicles just because they don't feel like paying attention to the road. It's one thing to have more money than somebody else. Fine, that's how our system works. When we begin valuing the lives of the rich over the lives of the poor, however, we're creating the basis for a despicable society.

Despite the multitude of excuses for driving sport utilities, one you will not hear is: "It gets great mileage!" This is because SUVs absolutely suck up fuel. Because they are classified as trucks instead of cars, they're not subject to the same laws that govern fuel efficiency in cars. This is another part of the status symbolism that comes along with owning an SUV: "Not only do we have enough money to buy it, we have enough to put gas in it."

Now, as gas prices rise and the oil supply from the Middle East becomes more questionable, it might seem reasonable that one of the first measures we take would be to conserve resources. Gas-snorking pseudo-trucks whose only purpose is to transport children back and forth from Little League practice to Boy Scouts seem like an obvious area in which to cut back.

But no. Instead, we decide it would be more economical to dig big holes in Alaska, a time- and resource-absorbing activity in itself. It would be a heck of a lot cheaper and more sensible for someone to simply point out that it's practically unpatriotic to drive around in an SUV these days. All that unnecessary gas used by sport utilities is just stupid and, these days, unconscionable as well. Some of the conservatives among us, though, can conceive of no worse fate than to sound even slightly environmentally friendly, even when being friendly to the environment is in the best interest of all human beings (as it usually is).

In the interests of safety and economy, it's time to park the SUV. And hey, if you wind up with a minivan, you may look old and stupid, but at least you won't be acting like it.*

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