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Monday, May 10th, 2004

truth therapy for your lizard brain

In January, Malcolm Gladwell (author of The Tipping Point) wrote an article about SUV safety, or really the lack thereof, in the New Yorker. I didn’t read it at the time, for the same reason that recovering heroin addicts tend not to get involved on “Syringe Cleanup Day” at the beach.

But I’m feeling OK. I’m breathing deep, practicing biofeedback, keeping the heart rate low. Here we go: Big and Bad: How the S.U.V. ran over automotive safety.

[Automotive] industry market research concluded that S.U.V.s tend to be bought by people who are insecure, vain, self-centered, and self-absorbed, who are frequently nervous about their marriages, and who lack confidence in their driving skills.

Gladwell’s article isn’t as inflammatory as that one quote might lead you to believe.

This one is, though.

(Just kidding.)

Gladwell’s mission isn’t to trash SUV owners, but to point out the enormous contradiction between marketing and reality. S.U.V.s are designed to make drivers feel safe, but all the height and attitude and steel do not make the vehicle safe. SUVs are less safe than many passenger cars. Look at the deaths per million vehicles:

Make/ModelType Driver Deaths Other DeathsTotal
Toyota Camrymid-size412970
Volkswagen Jettasubcompact472370
Ford Windstarminivan373572
Nissan Maximamid-size532679
Honda Accordmid-size542782
Mazda 626compact702999
Chevrolet Malibumid-size7134105
Chevrolet SuburbanS.U.V.4659105
Jeep Grand CherokeeS.U.V.6144106
Honda Civicsubcompact8425109
Toyota Corollasubcompact8129110
Ford ExpeditionS.U.V.5557112
GMC JimmyS.U.V.7639114

Car makers are lying to consumers. Or, consumers are allowing themselves to be deceived. SUVs provide a false sense of security. Sit inside one, and it’s like a womb. It was designed to feel that way: quiet, soft, round, with cupholders so you can keep your warm liquids at hand. I’m not making this up; they did studies!

But the kill rates prove that it’s an illusion. As Gladwell puts it,

[Volkswagon] Jettas are safe because they make their drivers feel unsafe. SUVs are unsafe because they make their drivers feel safe. That feeling of safety isn’t the solution; it’s the problem.

(See more about vehicle crashworthiness.)

posted to channel: Conservation
updated: 2005-03-08 18:23:40

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