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January 21, 2003

Shame Utility Vehicles

Thanks to VC for pointing me to his wife's essay, "California Confession: Driving on the Axles of Evil". It's a wonderfully written and candid discussion of how intelligent people rationalize buying these vehicles—boy do I understand that; I've always sort of wanted one but could never afford or really justify it. Anyway, the essay also raises an important point: Thousands of these vehicles are already on the road, so even though they're very dangerous (to their drivers and occupants, to other drivers, to the environment), it's not like we can just melt them all down into doorstops. Whatever problems attend SUVs, those problems will be with us for a long time, and they will probably get worse before they get better. (For example, as the vehicles age, they're likely to get even less efficient and create more pollution than ever.)

Meanwhile, Breaching the Web links to Greg Easterbrook's extensive review of Keith Bradsher's book, High and Mighty: SUVs—The World's Most Dangerous Vehicles and How They Got that Way. It details the federal regulatory machinations that encouraged the growth of the SUV market, as well as the many problems with SUVs—the way they're built, the way they're marketed, the way they're driven, etc. Near the end, Easterbrook asks a serious and disturbing question:

What does it say about the United States that there are now millions of people who want to drive an anti-social automobile? Huge numbers of Americans will pay thousands of dollars extra for vehicles that visually declare, "I have serious psychological problems." (Though maybe we are better off having this declared.) The antagonistic environment of the modern road is linked, of course, to the more general psychological predicament usually called stress. We are all stressed for time or money or achievement or sex, or at least we all view ourselves as being thus stressed; and the road is experienced as both an obstacle to the things that we are in such a hurry to fail to get and an arena for the cathartic release from this strain.

I'd argue that the "antagonist environment of the modern road" is linked to a lot more than just "stress." What about all those advertising campaigns that tell potential SUV drivers that the whole point of driving their vehicles is that they can intimidate and dominate everybody else?

Anyway, Easterbrook's review is great reading—especially if you're not planning to read Bradsher's book but you'd still like to understand why it's so provocative.

UPDATE: SUV Tax Break as Much as $75,000:

President Bush's economic stimulus plan could triple the size of a little-known tax loophole that could mean from $25,000 to $75,000 in tax writeoffs for small business owners — including doctors, lawyers and financial advisers — when buying an SUV for business purposes, the Detroit News reported.

Posted January 21, 2003 08:20 AM | general politics

Strictly speaking, I think the tax break in question regards vehicles of a certain tonnage; the article I read was referencing Hummers and the new H2 as being heavy enough to qualify for a tax break originally meant for farmers buying combines.

Just got here, after learning you had linked to my site. Looks like my kinda reading. One favor to ask, though...would you mind updating the URL to be Thanks!

Posted by: Paul Gutman at January 27, 2003 04:22 PM

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