October 23, 2007

What a useless waste of steel and gasoline.

It’s hard to know where to begin to rant. A Ford Expedition (carrying only its driver), rear-ended my wife’s car, at a stop light, nicely caving in the trunk. That’s a nice benchmark for cluelessness and personal responsibility, stopping neither for the light nor the car stopped at it, while piloting 6000 pounds of steel. Makes me feel real safe on my bicycle (and you wonder why cyclists dress like peacocks on acid?)

Earlier this year, my cousin was killed in a “motorcycle accident”. The cause of the accident was an SUV (large, and opaque) and its driver, who wanted to turn into a parking lot. Because the SUV has a boat-like turning radius, another car exiting the lot made it impossible for the SUV to enter. Because the SUV was large and opaque, the car exiting the lot couldn’t see whether there was any oncoming traffic. The SUV driver glanced in his rear view mirror, didn’t notice my cousin approaching from behind in the second lane, and waved the car on, right into my cousin’s path. Exiting bozo apparently didn’t want to seem impolite or untrusting, and rather than inch forward carefully into the lane he could not see, instead zoomed confidently into the traffic he thought wasn’t there. The helmet didn’t help enough.

Once upon a time, people used station wagons to move loads of people. They were safer (both for their own passengers, and people in other cars) and got better gas mileage than SUVs, and they didn’t make you feel like you were driving in a canyon, if you chose to instead buy a little car. As near as I can tell, the American auto manufacturers turned to SUVs to exploit loopholes in the fuel economy standards, and marketed them as “safe” vehicles because of their inordinate bulk. “Safe”, in theory, for their drivers, and passengers, but not for other people. So much for personal responsibility. Or, they sell these giant vehicles as somehow being your ticket to the wilderness — but when was the last time you saw such a car with so much as a little mud on it? And the monster trucks — did we just not have contractors (and plumbers, and electricians), back before pickup trucks got all muscle-bound and diesel-y?

And now, we are tearing our hair out, coming up with nutball schemes to keep liquid energy flowing to these bloated, dangerous, heaps. We can’t do it with corn — if we convert all the corn we grow now into ethanol, with none left over to eat or feed cattle, we’d only cover 20% of our oil consumption. Cellulosic ethanol? Where, pray tell, do we grow that much cellulose? There’s only so much land worth growing stuff on. It’s amazing, the snake oil that the oil companies, farm lobby, and auto industry will propose to sell, just so long as they can keep on making money.

It’s not necessarily “the answer”, but getting people out of SUVs and monster trucks would go a long way in reducing our traffic, accident, and energy problems. Getting people to spend a little more time out of cars altogether would be even better.

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