SUV safety:
A modest proposal


by Michael J. Smith


(Too callous for the Times. A more serious approach fared no better).

The heartstrings of America are thrumming these days over the plight of SUV owners: and with good reason. These folks have been let down badly. They spent a lot of money to make sure that if they got in a crash, it would be the other driver and his family who'd be killed. But now it turns out that the weapon they bought to keep them ahead in the highway arms race poses all sorts of unsuspected threats to people inside it as well as outside: rollovers and exploding tires, for example.

When a weapon kills the wrong people, you expect the government to do something. But where are the politicians? Nowhere. The SUV community has been left to twist in the wind.

Contrast this with the tender solicitude we show for cyclists and now propose to extend to scooter kids. When they get in somebody's way and get themselves run over, they get helmet laws. But who's looking out for the SUV driver's skull?

As a very first step, all passengers in SUVs must be provided with helmets. And not those sissy bicycle helmets, either: styrofoam and polyethylene aren't going to help much in an 80 mph end-over-end down an embankment. No, what we need is to a bicycle helmet what the SUV itself is to a car.

Fortunately, such a helmet exists, thanks to Dr. Fenris Laputa of the National Union of Transportation Safety Organizations. He and his team have developed a magnesium-titanium shell lined with eight inches of special shock-absorbing microhelical carbon-crystal foam and microprocessor-controlled motion-compensation servos, and equipped externally with sonar sensors and special shaped explosive charges designed to blow away any object approaching the helmet's security perimeter too rapidly -- a facility designed to cope with "road rage" shootings as well as crashes.

Weighing only 60 pounds, this modern marvel is still a bit too heavy for the human neck to support over those long Edge City commutes. So Dr. Laputa's team has also developed a harness which links the helmet to the frame of the vehicle. Neuroreceptive sensors and demographically-driven artifical-intelligence software in helmet and harness anticipate the wearer's desire to turn or tilt his head, shift position in the seat, and so on, and automatically actuate high-acceleration hydraulic cylinders to implement these movements. The result: cranial and gluteal motions far more rapid and graceful than the unaided human body can achieve, with no effort at all on the passenger's part.

An optional feature permits automatic bouncing, nodding, shoulder-wagging, finger-snapping and other rhythmic motions in tempo with music on the CD player. These movements will be encoded on a special encrypted and copy-protected track on the CD and transferred to the helmet harness controller software by laser beam. So you can drive like Mel Gibson and dance like Madonna -- exactly like Madonna -- at the same time!

Quality doesn't come cheap, and at $450,000 each, it's unfair to burden the SUV owner with the cost of these devices -- after all, he's already carrying a disproportionate share of the carmakers' profits and executive salaries. The answer is a special fund derived from new tolls on sidewalks, and steep taxes on shoes, bikes, skates, and scooters. Pedestrians, cyclists, skaters and scootniks aren't paying their share of the gas tax, or doing their part to support corporate America. No more free ride -- or walk, skate, or scoot -- for these selfish, unpatriotic debt-dodgers!

Sad to say, there are always cynical opportunists ready to exploit human tragedy. The tree-huggers, fresh-air fiends, and other malcontents are mobilizing to ban SUVs, in the name of "safety." They claim to be concerned about SUV occupants, but what they're really worried about is those losers in ordinary cars, and even pedestrians and cyclists -- not to mention dogs, cats, and stray gerbils. These nattering killjoys claim that SUVs encourage aggressive driving.

But hey, that's what driving is all about. Just look at any car commercial. Millions of drivers have found potency, autonomy, and ego-enhancement behind the wheel of an SUV; and we've got some news for the bleeding-heart whiners. Modern America wasn't built by people who were being careful.


Essays and reflections -- contents