January 18, 2003
High and Mighty
Though I dislike and won't drive an SUV, I don't care to make judgments about people who drive them. I have too many friends and family members who own them, and my house has enough glass in it, thanks. That said, it's hard to read Gregg Easterbrook's article in The New Republic about Keith Bradsher's book High and Mighty and not feel outrage at the special treatment, legislative exemptions, corporate coverups, and cynical marketing that has helped fuel the SUV revolution. Easterbrook covers many of these points, and I recommend his piece to all. Here are a couple of excerpts to whet your appetite:
Insurance-company data, Bradsher writes, show that SUVs and light pickups have much higher loss rates than regular cars. That SUV owners generally do not pay higher insurance premiums is a perverse consequence of 1970s-era laws that discouraged insurers from linking auto premiums to vehicle weights. Those laws were enacted when the well-off had glistening new small cars and the poor had old land yachts; in the era of the SUV, they represent a subsidy from the poor to the well-off. Buyers of luxury SUVs may also get tax breaks denied to buyers of regular cars. As the Detroit News recently reported, the Internal Revenue Service has been allowing affluent business owners who buy SUVs and classify them as business "trucks"--even if they are actually burlwood-trimmed Cadillacs for personal use--to knock as much as $25,000 off their taxes through a special depreciation. The special tax break only applies if the SUV weighs more than 6,000 pounds, which represents still another reward for waste.
Almost makes that tax cuts on dividends seem populist, doesn't it?
On New Year's Day, the incoming Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist was praised for racing to give emergency aid to victims of a vehicle wreck in Florida. Two children died despite his efforts. What was largely overlooked in the coverage of Frist's heroism was the character of the crash. A tire blew on an SUV and the monstrosity flipped, ending two young lives; tire-caused fatalities are rare among regular cars. Will Frist become an advocate of SUV reform, or will he return to Washington and join his colleagues in the next round of cover-ups and exemptions? Frist has now seen with his own eyes the folly of government's coddling of the SUV: the harm done by leading Americans to believe that these vehicles will protect people. In fact, the doctor-senator has now had their blood on his hands.
Fascinating. Thanks to ArchPundit
for pointing this out.
Posted by Charles Kuffner on January 18, 2003 to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles
That article is one of the most inflammatory pieces I've read in some time, and that's really saying something. It exaggerates the amount of extra gasoline consumed by SUVs, which as a percentage of national consumption is actually quite small. Moreover, it ignores the fact that without an SUV, many vehicle owners would be compelled to make more trips in order to transport the same number of people and/or cargo. For many, SUVs save gasoline.
I also would argue that the article is completely mistaken concerning insurance loss rates for SUVs. The truth is that two of the top ten vehicles with the lowest insurance loss rates are SUVs. Only one passenger car even made the list, while the rest were pick-ups and vans. Accordingly, I would argue that the larger the car, the lower the insurance loss rate. It's an easy claim to make when nine of the top ten vehicles with the lowest loss rates are vans, pickups, or SUVs, and effectively destroys the New Republic's argument.
As for the tire blowout and Bill Frist, I'd like to see some evidence that "tire-caused fatalities are rare among regular cars" and common among SUVs. It's only fair, of course, to exclude accidents caused by defective tires (I'm sorry, but Firestone's bad engineering has nothing to do with the nature of SUVs). I suspect that these conditions would invalidate the New Republic's criticism.
Hey Owen, there are these things called minivans-they hold more than SUVs and have better gasmilage.
As to the claim data, well it's nice and all but only part of the story since it takes only into account the amount of the claim and not the frequency.
And I'll take Easterbrook as his word since this is an area of his specialty and he is far from a left-wing radical (one would have trouble even considering a liberal).
"Hey Owen, there are these things called minivans-they hold more than SUVs and have better gasmil[e]age."
No they don't. The minivan class of vehicles gets worse gas mileage. Check fueleconomy.gov if you don't believe me. They're roughly the same, I'll admit, but SUVs are slightly better.
"As to the claim data, well it's nice and all but only part of the story since it takes only into account the amount of the claim and not the frequency."
All the article says is that SUVs have "higher loss rates" and implied that government policy shouldn't favor larger cars in terms of insurance rates. I showed that larger vehicles actually do have lower loss rates with data from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. I also noted that two large SUVs made the list, while only one passenger car did.
"And I'll take Easterbrook as his word since this is an area of his specialty and he is far from a left-wing radical (one would have trouble even considering a liberal)."
I'm not asking that you take me at my word. I provided a link. As for the tire-fatality claim, I at least shed doubt on his analysis by noting that the Firestone controversy completely throws the issue. Also, since he didn't cite any statistics, you can color me suspicious no matter what his ideology is. If he has an axe to grind against SUVs, I want some blasted evidence, not just statements.