A modest proposal
(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
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
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
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