There are too many SUVs on the road and the vast majority of them are driven by the wrong people for the wrong reasons. Most people who drive an SUV don't ever use the vehicle in any way that's unique to an SUV, i.e. off-road or in any kind of "tough-duty" driving. The most offroad action any given SUV driver sees is when they drive it on their lawn to wash it. Most people who actually do have some need for the large people-hauling capacity of an SUV would accomplish their purpose with a minivan or, better yet, a station wagon. Remember station wagons? I don't recall Americans chafing at the inadequacy of their station wagons for hauling the kids around or picking Grandma and her bags up at the airport 30 years ago. But I digress ...
What's so bad about SUVs? First and foremost, they are far larger and more massive than the use to which they are put requires. This means two things: They are terrible "road hogs" and they are horribly wasteful. Hauling around a ton of unnecessary steel requires power, and that means a big V-8. Now don't get me wrong -- I love big American V-8s. But when they are put to the use of hauling a ton of unnecessary steel with the aerodynamics of a shipping container, they get gas mileage in the low teens in around-town driving (the use to which most SUVs are put). Can you say slavery to Arab oil? The next time you hear a red-blooded American patriot complaining about Islamic fundamentalist terrorists, and then drive off in her giant Chevy Subdivision, think about it. Now, take a look around the next time you're on the road. How many SUVs do you see? How many people do you see in each one? It would be more efficient if SUV drivers drove real cars and just mailed checks to Al Qaida. Oh, and this same person is probably one who "doesn't like American cars." Huh?
What else do I hate about SUVs? Most people who drive them probably don't realize this, but "real" SUVs are trucks. Suburbans, Expeditions and their slightly smaller siblings are ladder-frame trucks with solid rear axles. Now if you're in the business of hauling literally tons of cargo, ladder frames and solid rear axles are a good thing. But if, like almost all SUV drivers, you simply need to take yourself, (occasionally) one or more human passengers and a little bit of inanimate stuff from point "A" to point "B" on paved roads, this automobile design became outdated 20 years ago at the latest. Now I'll confess that Detroit has done some amazing things to civilize the handling of the truck since Americans decided that they wanted the least sophisticated design possible for their cars about ten years ago. But an SUV is still a truck and it handles like a truck.
And what does Detroit think about all this? They love it. Why? Because when they sell an SUV, they're selling their lowest-tech vehicle that has the least R&D expense and costs the least to produce, since its basically the same product they've been selling -- as a truck -- for the last 50 years. Come on, people! Challenge Detroit! Ask for a product they have to break a sweat to design and build! "No thank you," says Mr. and Mrs. America, "even though we spent the 1980s and 1990s putting down American cars as being technologically inferior to European and Japanese products, we've changed our minds now and want to buy cars that American manufacturers were good at making -- in 1950."
So much for the idiotic decision to buy an SUV that America has been making in showrooms for the last ten years. What about SUVs on the road? Let's face it: Most people aren't very good drivers and even the best drivers have bad moments. This is one reason SUVs are popular. When I rant about SUVs to my friends (many of whom drive SUVs), they often respond that they feel "safer" in an SUV. They're right, in one sense: Surrounded by a ton of unnecessary extra steel, they're likely to come out of an accident with a normal-sized car better off than the people in the car. But they don't ask themselves whether being in the SUV may have contributed to the accident in the first place: With a higher center of gravity, poor handling and terrible stopping power due to the extra mass of the vehicle, I think this is a real factor in a lot of accidents. But, please, let's not think about what we're doing. Let's just wrap an extra ton of steel around the kids.
Now, what about the effect of SUVs on other cars and the general flow of traffic? Well, there's an arms race on America's roads now as a result of the SUV craze, folks. I think there are people out there buying SUVs as a purely defensive measure, because they were tired of not being able to see around the lines of towering monsters clogging our roads. And some people -- like me -- are rightly afraid of the hordes of giant steel behemoths hurtling along our roads, being piloted by regular people. (Note that the driving ability of people, like all phenomena in nature, is distributed on a bell curve. This means that a whole lot of those SUVs are being driven by incompetent morons.)
I know someone out there is thinking: "How can you be against SUVs if that's what people want to drive?" Well, let's get one thing straight: I think people should have a right to be stupid and, if they have that right, the market's going to respond by supplying as much stupidity as can be sold. Thus the Fox Network. I do not think that SUVs ought to be outlawed, and just because I happen to agree with a lot of tree huggers about them doesn't make me a communist.