TCS Daily

Paranoiac Arguments

By Brock Yates - January 31, 2003 12:00 AM

Now I am truly concerned about the mental health of the liberal establishment. While they seem to have gotten over the alleged election theft from poor Albert and the loss of the Congress in November, this Sport Utility thing seems to have driven them to the edge of madness. Fulminations about these vehicles have escalated to a point where other depredations against humanity by the likes of Saddam Hussein pale by comparison.

Now here comes Gregg Easterbrook in the January 20th issue of The New Republic reviewing Keith Bradsher's anti-SUV polemic "High and the Mighty: SUV's, the World's Most Dangerous Vehicle and How They Got That Way." Easterbrook breaks new ground of hysteria with such florid descriptions of cars such as my own Jeep Grand Cherokee as "Godzilla instruments of death" and "paranoiac contraptions". Wow, and I was celebrating the poor old beast for helping me plow through two feet of snow that blasted Upstate New York during one of the harshest winters since global warming was invented.

Perhaps I should call out the highway patrol to bring back my wife Pamela, who just left on a shopping trip with my eight-year-old granddaughter, Sarah, in her "Godzilla of Death."

Easterbrook's diatribe covers all the predictable bases; that SUV's suck up too much oil, kill innocents by the score in rollovers and, worse yet, transform drivers into homicidal maniacs devoted to crushing Honda Civics in their path.

There are, of course, elemental problems involved in assaults like Easterbook's and those of his idol, Mr. Bradsher. We will discount idiocies on the issue from such luminaries as Ms. Arianna Huffington, who likens the SUV motoring to direct Al Qaeda support or to assorted theological nitwits who wrestle with such cosmic issues as to why Jesus would not drive such vehicles.

For openers, the accusation that SUV's roll over more often (a 22% increase of all rollover accidents in 2001, regardless of the type of car, is cited as the fault of SUV's) can be countered in two ways.

First, the trend line for automobile fatalities has plunged downward for 15 years - ironically since SUV's began to gain market share.

Second, driver error must be included, understanding as we do that a vehicle with a higher center of gravity like an SUV demands added skill and knowledge. But in a no-fault society such as ours, driver responsibility is a non-factor. Even a demented, paraplegic, myopic octogenarian has the same level of safety behind the wheel as a normal human being, according to the politically correct dogma of the day.

Yes, SUV's demand more attention and skill than say, a low, road-hugging BMW. Yes, they can roll over when attempting to treat them like a Formula One car.

But their usefulness in snowy weather, for packing large amounts of luggage, groceries, and recreational gear, not to mention hauling boats, Jet Skis, travel trailers, snowmobiles (yes, we barbarians in the hinterlands outside Washington and New York do engage in such primitive activities) is a great boon to modern, multi-task living.

As for the accusation that SUV's lead to madness behind the wheel and increases in "road rage", there is not even a shred of proof that such behavior ever exists. "Road Rage" is a shibboleth, unless all illegal behavior - such as running red lights or speeding - is included in the statistics.

Easterbrook moans that the fact that many SUV's carry optional grille guards serves as an example of latent hospitality and concealed homicidal urges. Excuse me, but I know dozens of SUV owners who install such accessories as simple d├ęcor items and to hold extra driving lights that are needed on dark country roads beyond the Beltway and Manhattan Island.

But perhaps the most ludicrous of the indictments has to do with the alleged gluttony of the vehicles and how they fill the coffers of the Petrol-Mullahs of the Persian Gulf.

Before we go nuts about such profligate waste consider that only 12 percent of our petroleum (that's one gallon in eight for mathematical ingrates like myself) comes from the Middle East. Moreover, only about 30 cents of the $1.50 we spend for a gallon of gasoline is for crude oil - the rest being for things like taxes, distribution costs and middlemen. Only 15 cents a gallon actually goes to the dreaded potentates. According to people who work calculators better than I, that means 0.8 percent - or less than one percent of the money we spend for gasoline actually ends up in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, the UAR, etc.

Yes, we've got trouble in Venezuela and probably a war, albeit a brief one, in Iraq. But we can still live with foreign oil supplies as new energy conservation sources come on line. Secondly, this nonsense about SUV's can be counter-balanced by the fact that intelligent, non-aggressive, sensible, normal citizens like my wife find them eminently useful, flexible and safe.

As the trucky hulks built on aged pickup chassis are phased out and replaced by cross-over, car-like SUV's that are lower, stronger and better handling, this entire issue that is so stupidly resonant at the moment will surely fade away

At that point I hope experts on the subject like Mr. Bradsher, and Easterbrook, Ms. Huffington and the usually rational Fox news guy Bill O'Reilly will return to their senses.

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