"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.


Miss Merry said...

We had an interesting accident in our small town this week. Two super large SUV/Pickup type vehicles were traveling on the opposite sides of a road. Both had those side mirrors that stick out a mile. Both mirrors hit each other, causing one of the vehicles to spin out in a ditch. No one was cited because they were both driving in their own lane. . . Perhaps we could downsize enough the vehicles could fit in a standard driving lane?
I vote for more public transportation, too.

ApacheDug said...

I don't get why everyone needs to drive these oversized vehicles--I go to my sisters house, and there's 3 in their driveway--hers, her husbands and my 19 year old niece has an SUV too! I sold my last car in 2019 due to failing vision, but it was fairly small, a Honda Civic coupe. And I got teased plenty about my "putt-putt car" back home too. Well, I'm with Miss Merry--I live in the city and use public transportation--and in 2 more years I'll get to ride for free.

Tom said...

We do still have a car, a smaller one. We also have our Senior Fare Card for free rides on SEPTA, and just last week took advantage of the NJ Transit Fare to NYC -- $10 round trip (the overnight parking cost $20!).

Red said...

Sad but interesting statistics.

Anvilcloud said...

We live by a two-lane, secondary highway. The speed limit is 80kph (about 50mph). I don't know what speed is safe. If I go 80, cars pile up behind me, and that isn't safe. So I try 95, which you would think would be enough for those who want to go fast. But it isn't.

DJan said...

I drive as little as possible these days, partly because of failing vision, but also because I prefer riding the bus when I can get to where I need to go. I also drive a putt-putt Honda Civic.

Ed said...

For me, the easy answer is that American suffer from "it's all about me" complex. I've been all around the world and no other culture that I can think of it behaves quite like the way we do. Most cultures embrace how an individuals actions might affect those around them. Americans do not. As long as we the individual are happy/satisfied, we don't care how our actions affect other people. That is why our freeways are clogged with people blocking the fast lane and driving aggressively. I have yet to see that in any other country.

I'm not sure how to solve the "it's all about me" complex. If I wanted to limit the number of SUV's on the highway, I would tax the heck out of gas. Every time gas prices have spiked in the last decade or so, the number of large SUV's decreases dramatically. As a side benefit to increased safety, the extra money could be used to improve roads and safety mechanisms, giving us an extra bang for our buck. I'm generally not in favor of taxes in general but I'm all for more gas (consumer oriented) taxes.

Tom said...

Ed, I nominate you for U. S. Secretary of Transportation.

gigi-hawaii said...

David likes to drive his SUV, because it's easier to get of (less pressure on his knees). But, I prefer small sedans, because my legs are short and I'm only 5 ft tall.

Rosie said...

It's not only in America that the annual road deaths are increasing. Here in Australia our road deaths are also increasing and 2023 deaths were up by about 30% on the previous year. It is frightening to hear of so many lives lost on the roads and there seems to be nothing that helps even though there are more road rules in place.

Hope Springs said...

Another problem is the accidents that result in permanent damage. One of the women from my fitness center was in a small car and became the middle of an accident between a car and an RV that plowed into her from behind. She's permanently paralyzed. She has a great attitude considering, but how sad. And not her fault at all.

Tabor said...

CNN reported that Washington DC had over 27,000 speeding tickets unpaid. They are going to now start booting cars of drivers that do not pay.

Anonymous said...

Hope Springs, that woman's situation is precisely why I now drive a Subaru Forester (considered a sub-SUV). I bought it in 2017 when my 9 year old Honda Fit required a very spendy repair, and Consumer Reports rated the Forester the best car in that year, especially for seniors. My personal preference would be to be back in a tiny car like the Fit, but honestly by the end of its life I felt like a sitting duck on highways in that car. The Forester would be be toast up against one of the ginormous SUVs but I do feel safer in it.

Linda Myers said...

We're in Tucson for the winter, and the drivers here are really scary. In Seattle they're usually more courteous.

Barbara said...

This post made me think back to High School when the family's 1950 Ford was passed down to me. I had a little fender bender while driving, and while my Ford was barely scratched, the station wagon in front of me sustained a pretty big dent. My old car was made of heavy steel, and the newer car was less so. I remember getting in so much trouble!

Kay said...

Our neighbors have huge SUVs and trucks with not enough place to park them. Hawaii is unfortunately known for having horrible drivers. Just yesterday, we saw two speedsters go right through the red light. Absolutely incredible.

Quality Second Innings said...

Very useful information

Anonymous said...

I drive a SUV. I drive a Jeep Cherokee Latitude , which is the smaller jeep SUV. Not really any bigger than a full size sedan. I love it. I love having the back to stow stuff in and my dog claims the back seat. I used to drive a small Hyundai sedan but felt so vulnerable on the highways. I feel safer in the jeep.

Anonymous said...

Some people drive pickups/larger vehicles because they feel safer--and from what I've read in the news (so it's mostly anecdotal information) drivers of big pickups, just like drivers of large commercial trucks, tend to survive collisions (except perhaps w/well grown trees) are more likely to walk away or suffer few injuries from head on collisions (all too common on 2 lane state highways), and a few other types of collisions.
Others just want the largest vehicle they can afford a payment on for 5-7 years, some of the worst tailgaters are pickups, doesn't matter if it's pouring rain or a possibility of black ice, their drivers feel invulnerable. If you're in construction, a pickup can be a business expense, so what if you haul a trailer w/it for vacations sometimes.

I take Amtrak whenever I can.

I recently spent 3 months cat & house-sitting a town that's far more walkable & has a not bad bus system as well, then where I live. I loved that I could walk to most of the places I wanted or needed to go. The town actually spends money on improving its sidewalks, has bike lanes, bike boxes, etc along quite a few streets in the downtown area, there's a separated multi-use path that runs from that town to a much small town a few miles away. A man I spoke w/who cycles to/from work (using that paved path) every work day said he has to be on the same road as a motor vehicle for perhaps 2-3 blocks. While there are plenty of people driving, the town has the most bike riders/capita in all of OR, possibly the US (which compared to some other nations, still isn't that many riders). All of the larger town's downtown into older residential areas is pretty flat (probably because it's in a river's old floodplain) so walking is easy, most of the sidewalks had cut curbs (or curb ramps) installed, making the sidewalk easier/safer to use for anyone using a chair or other mobility device..
It's also a university town, w/a very good public library & a downtown takes struggling somewhat but is still viable. I could also walk to/along what I think of as a 'strip" mile or a few miles of strip commercial development, plus some hotels. The town seems to have waived some of it usual landscaping requirements, one reason is looks like just one stretched out, kinda ugly, strip development. It's where the big box stores, TJ Maxx, Michaels's Bath & Beyond before it filed for BK, some restaurants, mostly but not all chains, along w/smaller non chain businesses. There are several bus stops along the street (4 lane w/some 5th turning lanes), cross walk signals, bike lanes on either side & sidewalks all the way. Retirees moving there have helped drive up RRE prices, unfortunately.
I really enjoyed walking out the door already on my way to wherever it was I wanted to go--didn't have to get in a car & drive/deal w/traffic. I drove my car 5 times in 3 months--and one of those times was to drive to where I live (40 miles away) to pick up my mail at the post office and clear out my freezers--the ice storm that hit Oregon in January hit that part of OR harder then where I stayed, the power had been off for almost 4 days. Power never went off where I was living, although it did go off (for perhaps a day) in some other parts of town.

Snowbrush said...

Tom, I don't think of as someone who goes this long between posts, so I certainly hope you're okay.

I would be demanding to go with Peggy if she were intent on taking such an unsafe journey, but like you, I have gotten to where I hate driving, but in my case, it extends to any method of travel.

"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."

As one salesmen of large pickups put it, "If you're in a head-on, you win."

Anonymous said...

Some car manufacturers have stopped producing their (popular) sedans or smaller cars because (1) their profit margins were lower then w/say, pickups (I see more & more gargantuan pickups around/on highways); (2) supposedly people prefer SUVs, etc.

I wanted all wheel drive, occasionally I need it, & the slightly higher suspension is helpful when driving on gravel roads, which I do fairly often. But I wish I could buy an all wheel small station wagon car, VW makes one, Ford had a Focus small station wagon, car chassis, but generally the space in a small station wagon is better (you can fit more) then in an SUV.