"In this sticky web that we're all in, behaving decently is no small task." -- Novelist Stacey D'Erasmo

Tuesday, January 9, 2024

Bigger and Badder SUVs

     My wife and I know enough not to go out on the road on New Year's Eve. But we don't always know enough not to drive when the weather gets bad.

     My wife B desperately wanted to drive up to New Jersey to see her grandkids the other day, especially since her last trip was canceled when her son and granddaughter got sick.

     But then the weather report turned bad. A storm was coming in, bringing snow overnight, then turning to rain. It was supposed to stop, so B thought she could still make the drive. But she really didn't want to be out on the highway with the trucks and the speeders and the possibly icy conditions.

      I offered to go with her. But what I really thought was that she should cancel the trip. And, finally, she did. Which was a good thing, because the rain and slush lasted throughout the entire day. It would have been a miserable and dangerous drive.

     But the honest truth is, I don't like to drive at all anymore, except maybe around town and on an occasional back road. I don't like the speeders, the tailgaters, the horn honkers, the distracted and aggressive drivers.

     The fact is, American roads are more dangerous than they have been in years, as reported in a recent CNN article This Cultural Touchstone Is Killing Far Too Many Americans

     Automobile deaths peaked in the late 1970s and stayed high through the 1980s. Then they started to go down, due largely to seatbelts, airbags and other safety measures. But starting around 2012 they began to go up again. And they've been increasing pretty steadily ever since, for the past decade.

     In 2011, a little over 32,000 Americans lost their lives in car crashes. By 2022, auto deaths rose to more than 42,000. And in 2023, when the final figures come in, deaths will almost certainly be higher than 2022.

     According to the CNN article, high and increasing vehicle fatalities are a  particularly American problem. Why? Well, there are the issues mentioned above -- speeding, tailgating, distracted driving. But another significant factor is the extra large cars and SUVs that we now drive -- vehicles that are getting larger and larger with each new model year.

SUVs keep getting bigger and badder

     Tall trucks and SUVs with blunt hoods are particularly dangerous -- 45% more likely to kill pedestrians than smaller vehicles. That's because the hoods block driver views, creating blind spots in front of the car.

     Also, SUVs are heavier than they used to be, which is especially bad news for pedestrians, motorcyclists, cyclists and people in smaller cars. Just as an example, 2022 saw the largest number of pedestrians killed in America in more than 40 years.

     The bigger SUVs may be marginally safer for the drivers and their passengers. But they turn out to be weapons against anyone sharing the road with them. The heavier vehicles are also harder on the roads, which we all pay to maintain. And they consume more fuel which creates more pollution and drives up the price of gas.

     Maybe it's time . . . well, the answer is obvious. If government safety agencies won't do anything about it, there's no reason why we should buy or drive those big behemoths.

     Oh, also . . . school's back open, drive carefully.