Friday, November 28, 2003

Bull Bars, Those Deadly SUV Assesories



A "deadly assesory" might well describe a fashion statement, something really cool, worn on black. But in this case I'm writing about something much more grim, that has little reason to exist outside of our relentlessly macho self-image as drivers.

Bushwhacker is one name they go by and I guess there are others---those Rhino-like chromium bulldozer bumpers that are so often attached to the front of whatever SUV claims to be the big dog in the park.

Absurd. Absurd, but dangerous.

They're killers, maimers and outrageously unnecessary for anything other than image. They originated in Australia, where roads are empty of all but nocturnal kangaroos and the devices keep a truck on the road and an errant kanga in the ditch. Maybe some purpose in that.

To digress a moment (but not too far), a number of years ago the automobile industry introduced the 30-mile-per-hour bumper. Good idea. These inventions are shock absorbing and meant to turn minor accidents into less life (and neck) threatening events. A couple years back I was stopped at a red light and the woman coming up behind me wasn't paying attention, probably daydreaming. She hit me from behind at 40mph and, aside from some bodywork to both cars, little else happened. Both her and my bumpers absorbed a good deal of the impact and I wasn't shoved out into cross-traffic, where a lot worse might have happened.

If she'd been driving the family SUV, equipped as mentioned, God knows what would have happened and (presumably) happens every day across America. Shock absorbing bumpers are now the law for passenger cars, but SUVs and light trucks are immune from all such regulation. No matter that they are a huge and increasing proportion of family passenger vehicles.

"Gotta keep my family safe," admires the new owner, walking around his shiny new SUV in the driveway, polishing the Bushwhacker with his handkerchief. The unsaid admission is that your and my family don't mean a damn. His chrome bulldozer assessory is bolted directly to the frame. Not a smidge of absorption in that. Rolling across town to the mall or thundering down the road at 70, he or his wife or their seventeen year-old kid with a fresh new license is a threat to all. A deadly threat.

On a less life threatening point, what about parallel parking these monsters? Back up until the trailer-ball crunches the license plate behind, then ease forward until that chrome projection creases the trunk-lid of the car ahead.

Now I'll bet you think I'm anti-SUV. Matter of fact, I've owned three, two Izuzu Troopers and a Toyota 4-Runner. Fine vehicles all, up to getting me around muddy construction sites and down to the wintry duck-blind. Now, I live in the mountains in serious snow country and my vehicle of choice is a Subaru station wagon. Incredible car, but a car all the same, complete with energy-absorbing bumpers. Never been stuck, never had a moment's problem in the worst of conditions and never threatened my neighbors with bodily harm either.

"Gotta keep my family safe."

Can a civilian version of the Armored Personnel Carrier be far behind?