SUV terror touche!

"I'll be happy to drive an electric car when Arianna Huffington stops flying private jets and uses solar heat in her 5,000-square-foot home,"

heh heh.

To be honest, the idea that driving an SUV promotes terror is laughably obtuse. Is there a special pump at the gas station that is labeled "terrorist gas", which dispenses gas only from Saudi Arabian madrassahs? UPDATE: Radley Balko (via Jim) makes a similar point, running through some basic calculations:

About 20% of US petroleum comes from the Middle East. And SUVs consume about 2% of domestic petroleum. So you can blame SUVs for 20% of 2% of the oil we get from the Middle East. Or to put it another way, four tenths of a penny of every dollar SUV owners spend on gas goes to the Middle East.

But you can't stop there. The argument says: "SUV owners support terrorists." So you then have to figure out what percentage of that four tenths of a penny for every dollar goes to those Middle Eastern countries who are known to support terrorists. Then you have to look at what percentage of that money those countries actually spend on terrorism.

We're looking at a really small number here. Small enough, I think, that you could just as easily make the case that patronizing or investing in any U.S. business with operations in terrorist-supporting countries holds just about the same potential of your dollar falling into the pocket of a suicide bomber.

Not to mention sheer hypocrisy. As noted in the NY Post, the founders of the Detroit Project campaign prefer gas-guzzling private jets to flying commercial:

THE four founders of the Detroit Project - the anti-SUV campaign that blames the gas-guzzlers for aiding terrorism - have a blind spot when it comes to the use of gas-guzzling private jets. ... Arianna Huffington, producer Lawrence "Reservoir Dogs" Bender, talent agent Ari Emanuel - brother of Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) - and Laurie David, wife of writer-comedian Larry David, all have gas-saving hybrid cars in their fleets of vehicles, but they all prefer private jets to commercial flights. Emanuel - who swears he sold his Ferrari for a Toyota Prius while his wife drives a non eco-friendly Volvo and a minivan - is said to love flying private jets. "Ari spent tens of thousands last year in private jet fees - he hates flying commercial,"

A far more meticulous approach to debunking the "SUVs support terror" campaign is provided by Reason Magazine, however. The most important conclusion however is the analysis of the real motives behind any attempt to label SUV owners en masse as immoral:

This is the subtext of the anti-SUV campaign: Consumers are too stupid to know their own interests.

Perhaps the answer is the State-Sanctioned Civilian Vehicle? (scroll down to Steve's second post)

UPDATE: Let's not forget the holier-than-thou campaign of "What would Jesus drive?" The anti-SUV camp makes some respectable points, but this is not one of them. Anyway, a Christian answer to the question might better be "moneylenders out of the temple" or perhaps more prosaically, "an ass". One irreverent wit on the Trash Talk forum even makes a decent argument for a TravelAll![1]

UPDATE: Many people have pointed out the Greg Easterbrook article in TNR, which is a review of Keith Bradsher's new book, High and Mighty. I've already seen this piece and am frankly disappointed - usually Easterbrook has rigorous analysis, but in this essay he indulges in anecdote and misleading and unsupported statements.

I have to admit at being actually offended at Easterbrook's assertion (borderline racist) that "poor people drive poorly". This was central to his point about preventing SUVs from entering the used market (you know, because only "poor" people buy used cars). Another essay in Reason also takes on Easterbrook:

If neither the environmentalist nor the nativist condemnation quite drives the anti-SUV argument across the finish line, there's still the symbolic attack ... Gregg Easterbrook makes it clear that these popular vehicles are nothing less than pure evil. Indeed, they are "sociopathic cars" and "anti-social automobiles" that create "the very emblem of contemporary selfishness." ... Yet despite his nods to the environmental, nativist, and safety debates, Easterbrook ultimately seems more interested in what he calls the "existential fiasco of the SUV." The SUV isn't a response to "road rage" but rather a "cause" of that dubious but newsworthy social problem. Automakers market "hostility" via menacing SUV grills and are "guilty of advancing the fiction that SUVs are intended for offroad adventures." Curiously, customers don't seem to be in on the con; rather, they're simply passive dupes of such a "romantic deception," not willing participants. "There are lots of self-centered and self-absorbed people with little interest in their neighbors," declares Easterbrook. "Somebody finally made a class of vehicles to bring out the worst in them."

Again, the bulk of the argument here is a social engineering rant - the classic case of a liberal argument of paternalistic wisdom, aimed at illustrating the foolishness of the common man. While Easterbrook mentions the more substantial debates over pollution, safety. and foreign policy, he does not add anything to the debate, merely rehashes them in the context of his ultimately symbolic criticism.

It's not just the left that critiques Easterbrook, it's also the right. Jonathan Adler in NRO also takes on Easterbrook's arguments about safety :

To make his case, Easterbrook carelessly misconstrues federal crash-test data to claim SUV models from the late 1990s were "death traps." According to Easterbrook, differential ratings in frontal crash tests conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) show that such some SUVs are substantially less safe than large passenger cars. Yet the NHTSA site makes clear that "the frontal crash test results can only be compared to other vehicles in the same weight class." (see here). This is because, as NHTSA explains, "a frontal crash test into a fixed barrier is similar to a crash between two vehicles of the same weight." When a larger car hits a smaller car, on the other hand, the difference in weight results in more damage to the smaller vehicle and its occupants.
While shrinking SUV size might improve car safety, it is incontrovertible that increasing the weight of passenger cars by 100 pounds would almost certainly reduce highway fatalities by over 300 per year. These results are consistent with other studies, such as that by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety which concluded that "the high risks of occupants in light (and small) cars have more to do with the vulnerabiltiy of their own vehicles than with the aggressivity of other vehicles. "Traveling in a larger, heavier vehicle reduces your risk of being killed in a crash," notes Dr. Leonard Evans, president of the International Traffic Medicine Association. "There is no more firmly established conclusion in the vast body of traffic safety research." In other words, if the primary aim is to increase automotive safety, the Easterbrook's target should not be SUVs, but smaller, less-expensive cars.
To his credit, Easterbrook admits that federal studies make clear that "the most dangerous vehicles for their occupants are compact and sub-compact cars," not SUVs. He even suggests that the government should ban such "econo-boxes." Yet all this demonstrates is Easterbrook's willingness to tell other people what to drive. He evidently places little value on the ability of consumers to purchase the cars of their own choosing.

Adler also has solid critique of Easterbrook's rollover argument, and I've already commented on the myth of unsafe SUVs (especially rollovers) before. Ultimately, though, this isn't a contribution to the debate, merely a rehashing. In that sense, I suppose, we should thank Arianna Huffington for at least saying something new!

[1] I mean no disrespect. If this offends you, let me know.

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