Versus the American Family
by Matthew Craig
When you get behind the wheel of your
SUV or minivan, do you automatically become a member of a hate
group? According to the radicals now dominating the environmental
movement, driving one of these vehicles proves you hate the planet.
To the contrary, SUV and minivan owners
are often law-abiding American families that are simply obeying
While the owners of compact and hybrid
cars can smugly believe they are saving the world and saving
money at the gas pump, their choice of vehicle is not for everyone.
SUV-haters fail to understand the needs of the average American
family and these vehicles are now more popular than traditional
In many ways, big government programs
make SUVs and minivans necessary.
Regulations in many states require children
five years and younger (seven years and younger in New Jersey,
Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C.) to be restrained in child
seats at all times. Furthermore, the federal government recommends
that children under 12 ride in the backseat. This literally makes
it impossible for a family with four kids to fit into a traditional
passenger car, let alone bring along any of their young friends.
Critics characterize SUV and minivan
owners as wannabe survivalists wasting gas and clogging the roads
with unsafe vehicles. However, when driven properly, SUVs and
minivans are actually safer than cars. For front, side and rear
crashes, their occupant fatality rate per 100,000 registered
vehicles is 5.83 percent lower than for passenger cars. Simply
wearing seat belts would save an additional 1,000 lives per year,
while driving with common sense greatly reduces much-publicized
These critics also want to increase the
Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards that force manufacturers
to improve gas mileage. Doing so, however, would lead to higher
prices and compromise size and safety. Existing CAFE standards
already are cited by the government as responsible for 2,000
traffic deaths per year. And, with every 100 pounds that CAFE
standards cut from the weight of a vehicle, the annual death
toll increases by approximately 300 lives.
Improving gas mileage, surprisingly,
won't necessarily help the environment. According to Andrew Kleit
of Pennsylvania State University, better gas mileage encourages
more driving. Fuel-efficient cars that reduce the cost per mile
make it cheaper to drive more. Since some pollutant levels are
directly proportional to the number of miles driven, CAFE standards
can actually increase pollution.
Faced with the increasing popularity
of SUVs and minivans despite their best efforts to demonize them,
some frantic environmentalists are resorting to slanderous rhetoric
and even violence to try to stem the tide.
Keith Bradsher's contempt is particularly
noteworthy. Accord-ing to reviewer Gregg Easterbrook, writing
in the New Republic, in his book High and Mighty: SUVs - The
World's Most Dangerous Vehicles and How They Got That Way, Bradsher
displays his concern about SUVs entering the used car market
where they will be bought by "immigrants, the lower middle
class, and the poor, who generally speed, run lights, drive drunk,
and crash more often than the prosperous classes." This
sort of generalization is dangerous and hateful, and perpetuates
already problematic racial stereotypes.
In Virginia, Oregon and Pennsylvania,
the eco-terrorists of the Earth Liberation Front are discouraging
SUV purchases through vandalism, arson and the acidic disfigurement
of SUVs at dealerships. These actions force owners to live in
fear of becoming the next target of what the FBI considers to
be one of the most active domestic terrorist groups.
Transportation is a modern necessity.
Big government has inadvertently made SUVs and minivans the only
vehicles that can accommodate many families. But those same people
who advocate safety requirements that make these larger vehicles
a must-have for larger families are simultaneously trying to
legislate them out of existence with unsafe fuel-efficiency mandates.
While their logic is muddled, one thing
is clear: if these activists succeed, American families will
Matthew Craig is a former research
associate for The National Center for Public Policy Research.
Comments may be sent to [email protected].
Published August 2004 by The National Center for Public Policy
Research. Reprints permitted provided source is credited. New
Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not
necessarily those of Project 21.
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