I know it’s all the rage right now to attack those wicked, selfish SUV owners for “hogging the roads” and “choking the air” with their oversized gas-guzzling monstrosities. Some have even suggested that Jesus would not drive an SUV. Recently, my brother-in-law, wildlife photographer, hunter, and father of 4, answered the critics following his purchase of yet another Chevy Suburban. I think his reasons for owning an SUV just might change your mind.
My family is the proud owner of a used Chevy Suburban. To buy this Suburban, we traded in our Mercury Grand Marquis, which is rated as a large sedan. Got 17 in town, 22 on the highway. But with our family expanded to four kids (Yeah, I know us overpopulating the world is evil too. Bad, bad, bad, we’re very bad) we couldn’t fit all four of them in car seats in the back seat with only three seatbelts. So that meant a third row of seats to get the whole herd in. Thus, the new SUV.
We could have gotten all our kids in a mini van, and done a little better on gas mileage, but I’ve seen what can happen to a mini van too many times when in a wreck. For years, I was called at all hours of the day and night, before Deborah and I got married, to shoot photos of the fatal crash scenes for the Texas Department of Public Safety (i.e. highway patrol) here in the Rio Grande Valley. I saw way too many small cars (compacts, and even mid-size), and especially mini-vans that were responsible for the majority of deaths that I witnessed. And when it was a minivan, the fatalities almost always involved kids, even properly strapped into their carseats.
Whenever I’d get a call in the middle of the night, and the officer would tell me they had fatalities in a mini-van, I’d call it every time, and it would have little kids involved. Part of the problem with mini vans is that they have those huge doors that slide back for easy access to get people in and out of the vehicle. There’s not much support (i.e. door frames and metal) for those doors (or for the rest of the vehicle for that matter), and when another vehicle punches its grill (i.e. T-boning them) through the side of that mini van, all the kids in the second and third seat are plastered against the far side of the vehicle, or even thrown thru the opposite window or door, often times in their carseats.
The other problem with small vehicles is they are “mini.” They have much less mass, since they are small and lightweight, plus, they use thinner gauge steel, than large SUV’s, so it’s much more likely to crumple and bend and separate than heavier metal. How many large SUV’s did I see with fatalities? One. And that was when that Suburban had a wreck with a vehicle that had much more total mass than it did, and in that case it was an 18-wheeler trailer truck. So I told myself, even before I was married and had kids, that there was no way I was going to put my most precious possessions in a mini van, or even a small to mid-size car, should I be fortunate enough to have that one day.
Have I ever had a wreck in a SUV? Yep, once. Actually, it was on my birthday, and Deb and I were dating at the time, so this was about 10 years ago. A lady (about 70 years old) ran a stop sign and I T-boned her right in the passenger side door. I was going about 45mph in my Suburban, which knocked her old hulking Oldsmabile into a building on the opposite street corner (actually cracked the corner of the building). I didn’t feel a thing, though the only thing rearranged inside my Suburban was my drink cup which flew out of the cup holder on impact and was laying in the floorboard, but could have also been from me locking up the brakes trying to not hit her. When I jumped out of my Suburban to check on the old lady, she was laying in the passenger side floorboard of her car. She wasn’t wearing a seat belt, so the impact of my Suburban on her passengers side door threw her out of her seat into the near side floorboard. She had a few bumps and bruises from getting thrown around some (which would have been solved with a seat belt), and I came away with narry a bump or bruise. Fortunately both of us were in large vehicles. Lots of mass around us to take the impact, instead of our bodies taking the impact.
A huge factor here is kinetic energy or the physics of momentum, which are basically the same thing. The amount of translational kinetic energy depends upon two variables, the mass of the object and the speed of the object. Momentum is mass times velocity. By having a large, heavy vehicle around my family, can I guarantee that they’ll be safe? No way, because I can’t guarantee how fast or how much mass an object will have coming toward our vehicle. We’d be no match for a train, or a trailer truck, or even Albino Hayford if he were shot out of a cannon, since they all have so much mass (just kidding, Albino). But against the majority of vehicles on the road, my family inside our Suburban would have a much greater chance of surviving. I’m not saying that we would be guaranteed to survive, but we would have a much greater chance of surviving.
The more mass you have, the more it dissipates the impact of another vehicle. Selfish, yep. Safe, nope. Safer, yes. Worth burning up a little more fossil fuel and the exhaust going into the atmosphere to give my family a better chance of survival in a wreck? Priceless.
I’ve already spent way too much time on this. However, I would love to talk more about Conservation compared to Environmentalism later, but I’ve got to get photos out to one of those evil hunting magazines that teach selfish hunters how to kill blue whales. Now where are my blue whale hunting slides?