The Sport Utility Vehicle: Automobile Incarnation of Irresponsibility
Drive down any city street in Portland, Oregon, and you will instantly be surrounded by massive, gas-guzzling sport utility vehicles (SUVs). They will block your view of traffic, claim more than their share of street parking space, and intimidate you with their monstrous size. And ironically, though their tires have been manufactured to crash over only the roughest of terrains, these SUVs will almost exclusively remain on paved city streets, serving as passenger vehicles for posh urbanites who enjoy the rugged ambiance their monstrous automobiles emanate.
True, sport utility vehicles succeed in enveloping their owners in an aura of ruggedness. Their brute size alone makes them a symbol of power that fits well within America's obsession for independence and that seems to suggest, as editorialist Erin Mahoney writes, that "the bigger a vehicle, the better protected its occupants" (sc. 1). Yet while the SUV's image of commanding might and size-based safety is appealing to many, SUVs are less favorable than they seem. They pose legitimate safety and environmental concerns that put humans and nature at risk. Also, because the features they sport are often unnecessary, considering the needs of their owners, SUVs contribute to excess materialism within U.S. culture. Therefore, despite their booming popularity, the features and images attached to SUVs make them one of the more irresponsible automobile choices on the market.
It is understandable that SUV owners feel safe inside their vehicles. After all, most things traveling down the road cannot harm a 2-ton Chevy Blazer or a 3.5-ton Ford Excursion. Yet these massive SUVs, which are federally classified as light trucks, are "a proven threat to smaller vehicles" (Mahoney, sc. 1). Car passengers account for 80 percent of the deaths that result from the collisions of cars and light trucks. Incredibly enough, in the name of "safety," Ford Excursions have been installed with "Blockerbeams," bars beneath their front bumpers that prevent them from riding over smaller cars in head-on collisions (Welch, sc. 1). The mere fact that such an apparatus is necessary suggests that SUVs pose unnecessary safety threats to other drivers. Furthermore, because they threaten other vehicles, they raise a question of corporate responsibility. Is it ethical to drive a vehicle that so blatantly endangers others?
SUVs may easily survive front-side collisions, but they are not free of safety risks. Though they contain safety systems such as antilock brakes, independent suspensions, and computerized monitoring systems (Gibney, sc. 1), they also have narrow tracks, soft suspension, and a high centers of gravity. Such qualities make them unstable enough that they require a "High Rollover Risk" warning brand from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). According to NHTSA...