The columnist Arianna Huffington is waging a campaign against SUVs. It’s even become a religious issue: some Christians criticize them by asking, “What would Jesus drive?” while others slap a fish symbol on the back of one of the most gas-greedy road hogs on the highway. When Whitley Strieber made a minor critical remark about SUVs on a recent Dreamland broadcast, he received tons of nasty e-mail. It seems like everyone I know who buys a new car gets either an SUV or a long-bed truck, and I expect it’s the same in your town too. Are SUVs evil?
They’re certainly annoying to those of us who don’t drive them. Sometimes we feel like a mouse in the midst of a herd of elephants as we try to negotiate around them and catch a glimpse of the traffic up ahead. We’ve also gotten used to doing the “Braille back-out,” where you can’t see past the SUVs on either side of you so you just have to back out of your parking spot blind and hope for the best. And it’s not reassuring to know that if we’re in an accident with one of those giants, its bumper will crash through our windshield and squash us like a bug, while the driver looks down on us in pity.
But annoying isn’t the same as evil. If it was, every one of us could look forward to roasting in hell.
What’s really evil about SUVs and trucks is the fact that they don’t have to meet the same Federal air pollution standards as automobiles, and it’s up to the states to meet Federal EPA air quality levels. Here in San Antonio, we’ve been flunking air pollution tests and asking for “just one more chance” for years now. Eventually we’re going to have to resort to the kinds of restrictions that freedom-loving Texans hate, such as mandatory car pools and alternating driving days for even- odd license plates. Or maybe we’ll have to impose our own car emission restrictions like those !@#^&* socialist Californians! (I’m talking like a Texan here).
When I tell my friends that SUVs and trucks aren’t held to the same emissions standards as cars, they’re amazed: most of them didn’t know this. They DID know they don’t have to get the same gas mileage as cars (again, thanks to the Feds), but they don’t worry about that, since gas is cheap and seems to flow like a never-ending river here in the U.S.
Since we’re about to go to war with Iraq over oil (among other things), and because the government keeps threatening to drill in the Alaskan wildlife preserve, it does seem sort of evil to waste gas. But it’s hard for the average guy to feel guilty when the government encourages high gas usage by not forcing car manufacturers to raise the miles per gallon on these vehicles.
One nasty little secret is that trucks and SUVs are the only items car manufacturers are making a profit on right now because they’re cheaper to make than they look: for an SUV, you just take a truck and put a little more metal on top?and charge a lot more. And congress doesn’t want to cause trouble for our auto industries (and people who want to keep their jobs don’t either).
So who’s evil here? If anybody is, it’s the Federal government. Thanks to big business donations, they’re unwilling to make the hard decisions necessary to force auto makers to clean up their act. Maybe the “axis of evil” George Bush talks about isn’t just out there, it’s here at home as well, among politicians who can’t see past the next election.
Frankly, I think the problem will solve itself. Drivers will get tired of those SUVs eventually: They’re no fun to drive and hard to park. In my little car, I can zip past them before the light turns red and beat them out for a parking spot every time. Here in San Antonio, most of them are driven around empty, except for Mom in the driver’s seat, who’s developing biceps like a wrestler from trying to maneuver that hunk of steel. I predict she’ll get tired of it soon, and demand a two- seater convertible, with just enough room for the groceries in back.
But the problem of big government being unwilling to make laws to protect the health and welfare of the average citizen won’t go away. It will only get worse unless we’re willing to hold politicians’ feet to the fire. We voters have got to learn to stop calling each other names, and recognize where the real evil lies.
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