Drive around town or the highway these days and seems that there are weigh more SUVs and the like than conventional passenger cars. The gas prices do not seem to be high enough, or have not been high enough for long enough to affect people sufficiently to change their means of transportation.
But this is not an article about fuel economy or about being ecologically conscious. It is about the safety, or lack thereof of sharing the road with these large cars.
The key reason I do not like to have an SUV in front of me when driving at highway speeds is that I cannot see ahead. One of the key driving habits in highway travel in my opinion is to scan the road in front of you, and by that I do not mean immediately in front of you, but rather two or three vehicles in front of you. With passenger cars, you can either see past them, or through their rear window.
Being able to see the car in front of the car in front of me brake greatly increases my reaction time. When I see this, I usually take the foot of the gas. I do this usually before the guy in front of me even brakes. This way, when the car in front of me does brake, I will already have slowed down so I may not have to brake at all. This also saves fuel.
SUVs prevent me from doing so. I cannot see though their rear windows because they are too high above the ground and also because they are almost always tinted. The same applies to pick-up trucks. If their rear windows are not tinted, then they are adorned by American eagles, or flags, or the like. Mini-vans tend to have rear windows reaching lower, but since those are tinted in practically all cases this does not help. Viewing around these cars is also difficult because they are typically much larger and boxier than your average passenger car. The only choice then is to drive to the far right of the lane to try to get a glimpse past the car, or to keep a much larger distance. This of course will not help much, because somebody else will quickly fill that larger gap.
I recently mentioned this in a circle of friends and family, and the resounding response was: “That’s why I want to get an even larger SUV”. This is of course not helping anybody. It’s an armament race that will make the road less and less safe. And, as a side note, will guzzle more and more gas.
Some time ago I read a very interesting and eye-opening article in the New York Times about traffic statistics and traffic deaths involving passenger cars and or SUVs. Note that my dislike for sharing the road with these kinds of cars was not spawned by the NYT article. But it certainly gave my rather subjective feelings a whole new foundation.
The gist of it is, that SUVs make the road less safe for passenger cars, but are also less safe all by themselves. Having an SUV only benefits you when you are in a crash with a smaller car. Of course, only if you have not rolled over already before that.