The rise of the SUV on American roads is a decades-long disaster. We at Jalopnik have been beating this drum for years now, but a new video from the excellent YouTube channel Not Just Bikes really highlights the horror these giant vehicles are inflicting on everyone from pedestrians, people in smaller cars, air-breathers, city-dwellers and even the SUV owners themselves.
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There’s seriously so much good info here, I’m going to urge you to watch the video in its entirety. It’s a long one, but well worth your time (even if it might make you unreasonably angry):
It’s full of verifiable facts that will leave your jaw on the floor, such as: If all SUVs were a country, it would rank seventh in the world for carbon emissions (more than the Netherlands and the UK combine.) Or that the infamous Chicken Tax directly led to the rise of oversized vehicles. Or that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration doesn’t crash test two different weight classes of cars against each other, despite these models sharing the same roads. He even compares the size of SUVs with actual tanks. Terrifying stuff!
Not only are SUVs bad for everyone outside of the car — they crash test terribly for drivers and passengers inside the SUV as well due to their stiffer frames. SUVs and trucks are designed to act as battering rams instead of crumpling on impact. That sends the energy of the crash into the fragile human bodies inside.
And remember when roll over crashes in SUVs were a huge scandal for automakers? They are still a problem, but we’ve accepted giant vehicles and the horrifying crashes they cause as normal. While traffic deaths were at a 16-year high in 2021, SUV sales continued at a brisk pace. And as the streets fill with larger and larger vehicles, more drivers feel they need to buy large vehicles in order to feel safe sharing the roads with behemoths.
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Not Just Bikes has several great solutions for how to save lives on the road including the Jalopnik-approved method of bringing back station wagons and minivans to America’s roads as well as getting rid of the Chicken Tax so automakers have to compete with small zippy European trucks. Definitely a solution we can get behind. He also suggests taxing so-called “light trucks” for their excessive size and weight and drastically lowering speeds in cities to make up for the heavier mass and weaker stopping power of such vehicles.
Car manufacturers seem to think that fancy gadgets like cameras and sensors will protect folks outside of their monstrous contraptions, but the numbers don’t lie. As SUVs have risen, so too have pedestrian deaths, traffic fatalities, carbon emissions and the instances of children being run over, rather than backed over.
Pedestrian deaths rose 18 percent between 2019 and 2022, and preliminary numbers from the first half of 2022 shows a five percent increase over that. That’s despite more and more cities claiming they want to adhere to Vision Zero, or zero traffic deaths. So far in the U.S. only one city — Jersey City — has managed to pull this feat off so far.
That’s likely because it takes political will to make our streets safer, not just at the city planning level. However, taking on the powerful, profitable companies selling a highly profitable in demand product like SUVs is a loser of an issue. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has known for 15 years it need to crash test vehicles for pedestrian safety, yet hasn’t even put forth recommendations for what those tests would look like.