TCS Daily

...'Mighty' Misdemeanors

By David Harsanyi - September 26, 2002 12:00 AM

Were it up to Keith Bradsher, the U.S. Armed Forces would be diverted from the Middle East and massed along the city limits of Detroit - undoubtedly, transported in sensible, mid-sized sedans. For you see, Bradsher, author of the new book, High and Mighty: SUVs, the World's Most Dangerous Vehicles and How They Got That Way, regards the SUV a weapon of mass destruction.

The author, who made his name as Detroit bureau chief of the New York Times, argues that "gas-guzzling and pollution-belching" SUVs are ruthless killing machines, the biggest menace to public safety produced by auto industry since the "bad old days of the 1960s."

With three times the rollover rate of average cars and a higher chance of serious occupant injury than any other class of road vehicle, Bradsher contends that SUVs mete out catastrophic injuries to drivers and have an equally lethal effect on pedestrians, the environment and our communal wellbeing.

So why do Americans love their SUVs so? High and Mighty labels Americans superficial idiots, without an ounce of common sense, duped by fancy TV ads and more concerned with impressing their neighbors than guarding their own lives.

Directing a generous portion of his ire at Madison Avenue, Bradsher hypothesized that the SUV's success constitutes "a triumph of image and marketing over practicality" and that "Americans care more about image than anything else."

SUV owners, he writes, "tend to be people who are insecure and vain. They are frequently nervous about their marriages and uncomfortable about parenthood. They often lack confidence in their driving skills. Above all, they are apt to be self-centered and self-absorbed."

Bradsher contrasts owners of SUVs with another kind of vehicle owner. "Minivan owners tend to be people who are very giving [and] are the most likely category of vehicle owner to go to church and engage in volunteer work... Minivan ads tend to emphasize themes like protection, togetherness and helping others...SUV ads celebrate a more individualistic, sybaritic, and even sometimes epicurean vision of life."

Bradsher's crusade is nothing new. Ralph Nader - who has generously praised Bradsher's book - first took shots at the automobile over thirty years ago. And it's no secret that environmentalists have targeted the SUV for extinction.

The problem for Bradhser is he ignores a multitude of inconvenient facts regarding light trucks and SUVs. Most notably, he ignores the fifty percent decline in fatalities per vehicle over the past decade. It's a decline that coincides directly with, you guessed it, a doubling of SUV ownership.

Of course, High and Mighty does not debate the statistics and long-term influence of light trucks and SUVs. It just asserts that they are evil. The problem is, if they are as dangerous as he says, Bradsher can't adequately explain the immense popularity of these four-wheel drive grim reapers. After all, forty per cent of all registered passenger vehicles on the road are light trucks and SUVs. Four million SUVs were sold just last year. Is it possible some of those drivers actually believe the SUV is safer and that, rather than being dupes, there just might be some data to support their beliefs? Not for Bradsher. To him, all SUV owners are egotistical ingrates, scared of their wives, husbands and kids. Now that's a high and mighty attitude, isn't it?

David Harsanyi is an NYC-based writer.

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