July 20, 2007

Why People Hate Sport Utility Vehicles

AS I UNDERSTAND IT, there's been a lot of talk recently about some guy in Washington, D.C., who had his Hummer sport-utility vehicle vandalized while parked on the street. The story got major play in The Washington Post, because owner Gareth Groves, 32, had the $38,000 SUV for all of five days before two masked men broke every window, slashed the tires, and dug the message "FOR THE ENVIRON" into the body. Thus far, the response from the nation has ranged from outrage to a feeling that, although it shouldn't have happened, Mr Groves kinda got what he deserved.

I can understand the first response but not the second.

After all, as Vincent Vega famously put it in "Pulp Fiction," you don't fuck with another man's automobile. That Mr Vega was a hit man only goes to show how deep a crime this is against conventional morality. Like Mr Vega, I too share a sense of outrage against the anti-social hellions who would do something so beastly as to damage someone else's automobile. I personally believe that car vandals should face punishment so severe it would give a judge in Singapore pause.

That said, though, I don't understand why people believe Mr Groves, through his choice in vehicle, somehow invited the crime against himself. After all, how is that their business what kind of car Mr Groves drives? It's his money and his life and he has a right, under our glorious capitalist system, to purchase whatever type of car he wishes. If that is a $38,000 Hummer H2 or a $10,000 Ford Focus, that is his decision and his decision alone.

This is not to say I consider Mr Groves the brightest bulb in the lamp store. For one thing, Mr Groves paid $38,000 for a constantly depreciating asset, which is not generally a recipe for financial success. For another, Mr Groves paid $38,000 for a vehicle when he was 32 years old, when a good chunk of that money could have been invested instead. This would, in time, have allowed him to buy several sport-utility vehicles of his choice. This also suggests Mr Groves is a bit dim. For a third, it's worth noting that Mr Groves still lives with his mother. As such, spending $38,000 on a car is ridiculous.

Also, in the photo of Mr Groves, it appears he is wearing a San Diego Chargers away jersey. Still, even though Mr Groves' recent auto purchase might have made him the Marty Schottenheimer of the car-buying public, that doesn't mean the man deserved to get his car wrecked.

I do think I understand why people generally detest sport-utility vehicles, though, and I don't think it has much to do with the environment. Rather, it has to do with driving conditions.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I should note that I drive a Ford Taurus sedan. I have always driven a Ford Taurus sedan (or similar) and I will probably do so for a long time to come. This is because I like sedans. I am a sedan person. Sedans, to my mind, are practical, understated and elegant. For their drivers, they offer up an aura of smart sophistication that shows others the sedan's owner is an intelligent yet grounded sort, confident in his own image and ability. Plus, they're relatively easy to park.

On the other hand, consider how SUV drivers are viewed. Everyone has driven down the freeway at one point or another and found themselves at the mercy of an incompetent SUV driver breathing down one's neck, even though one is going well over the speed limit. This incompetence, combined with a lack of respect for the machine they're driving and a lack of respect for others on the road, annoys drivers of more traditional vehicles. People tend to get a lot more annoyed about others' driving habits when others are driving vehicles considerably larger than their own, and that's generally because people are well aware of the laws of physics. An incompetent driver operating a Kia Spectra is considerably less dangerous than an incompetent driving a Cadillac Escalade.

I would suggest this is what lies behind most of the animus directed against sport-utility vehicles, and not concerns over the environment. The environment is just a secondary focus. It may amplify the hatred but it does not cause it.

Still, the amount of hatred directed at SUV drivers does surprise me. After all, plenty of SUV drivers have perfectly good reason for owning their vehicles -- they may live in a rural area, or need to haul stuff, or what have you. Plus, our glorious capitalist system has a way of balancing things out. Look how many SUV drivers are now driving less because gasoline prices are so high. The way I see it, there's no need to vandalize SUVs or berate their drivers -- just chuckle softly when you see them filling up at the gas station!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at July 20, 2007 08:41 PM | TrackBack
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