- The Washington Times - Friday, August 3, 2001

The debate over sport utility vehicles continues. On one side are those who demand that the vehicles, which are classified as light trucks, meet standards for cars. On the other side are those who say, "Leave SUVs alone. They are what they are, and that's why so many people buy them."

The first group links its demands to seemingly unassailable motives: clean air, safety, less oil. Motherhood has not been cited yet.

The second group says, "Mind your own business. You drive what you want, we'll drive what we want. Think of it as pro-choice."

One aspect of this argument that appears undeniable is that SUVs actually are safer for the people who drive them, because of their size. Highway statistics show that in accidents, SUVs protect passengers better than cars.

"Yeah?" reply the anti-SUV folks. "Well, how about the people driving smaller cars who were hit by SUVs?" Their point is that the bigger car will almost always sustain less damage than the smaller car. It's a matter of physics. But are they lobbying against smaller cars and insisting that everyone buy a big vehicle like an SUV (or maybe a semi)?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says there would be no fewer traffic fatalities if light trucks, including full-size sport utility vehicles, were to have lighter weights. In fact, it's quite the opposite. The NHTSA report says adding weight to passenger cars would definitely save lives. This was a revision to a previous report stating that smaller SUVs would mean greater safety. It makes you wonder if the report's authors once worked for GM.

What's going on here? One thing seems clear. Pro-SUVers and anti-SUVers are going to go around and around with all sorts of contradictory reports, projections and studies. Some of these studies will say SUVs are great, and some will say SUVs guarantee the end of the world as we know it. One thing is for sure: They will keep hundreds, and maybe thousands, of government researchers and regulators off the streets, greatly reducing traffic fatalities. (We need a study on that.)

This whole argument brings to mind the old Indian name for New Hampshire's Lake Winnepesaukee, where opposing tribes lived. They called it "Chaggogagog Manchoggagog Chebunnagungamog," my stepfather once told me. That meant, "You fish on your side, I fish on my side, and no one fishes in the middle." In the SUV debate, think of that as, "You drive the car you want, I'll drive the car I want, and let's hope we don't meet at the center divider."


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