How sport utility vehicles stack up to minivans


April 08, 2003|By Jody K. Vilschick | Jody K. Vilschick,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

I ADMIT to not being a big fan of sport utility vehicles; some readers have picked up on that bias. Brad Closs e-mailed me recently in defense of SUVs.

"While it is currently `in' to bash SUVs because they take up a lot of space, are hard to see around and use too much gas, there is an interesting comparison to be made between the most popular SUVs and minivans," he said.

He compares the vehicles' dimensions, noting that "the most popular minivan (the Chrysler/Dodge Grand Caravan)" is almost a foot longer and over a half foot wider than the Ford Explorer, according to Consumer Reports' Annual Auto Issue.

"The overall gas mileage differs by 2 mpg - within the variation of how people drive," Closs said. He notes that another popular SUV, the Toyota Highlander, gets 1 mpg better mileage than the minivans.

"Some conclusions can be drawn: The minivans take up more room both on the road and in parking lots. Both SUVs and minivans are equally hard to see around, both in parking lots and on the road," he said. "The mpg difference [while different] is not as significant as many would like to believe. The justifications of increased visibility and extra room apply equally to both classes of vehicle. The fact is that Americans like their SUVs and their minivans for many of the same reasons."

"To be consistent, those who are concerned about SUVs and their impact on the environment should be just as vocal regarding minivans. Singling out SUVs is short sighted at best and possibly hypocritical. The result is a lack of credibility once the facts are known," he said.

I still disagree, and this is why: SUVs are marketed by promising glorious off-road adventures - an impractical and illogical appeal to our egos. Minivans are still a lot more practical: they hold a lot of people or things or both and are generally safer, although I recognize that some SUVs are improving in that aspect. But I wonder at the people doing the morning commutes in their gleaming SUVs: do you really need one to travel up and down Interstate 95? Those people should get off their egos and buy a good commuter car, preferably one of the new hybrids that get a gazillion miles per gallon.

That said, I know of people who have SUVs for very good reasons, such as needing a vehicle to pull a horse trailer or recreational vehicles (although if we're talking environmental issues, that opens up another can of worms).

More on left-lane bills

I'm still receiving e-mail about the proposed law, passed by the Maryland House of Delegates in February and under consideration in the Senate.

"So let me get this straight, it's `discourteous' for someone to fail to yield, even if they are exceeding the speed limit," Zolt Levay wrote. "But it's perfectly acceptable to force someone to yield by speeding up behind them, flashing your high beams, and climbing up their tailpipe? And now we want to pass a law [encouraging] this behavior? I guess the only consolation is that this law is not likely to get enforced any more than existing laws on speeding, tailgating and other aggressive driving behavior."

He also said he is willing to yield to speeders or tailgaters, and will even pull onto the shoulder - "if it's safer than staying where I am." But he said, "I'm less likely to yield if someone tries to push me off the road, especially if I'm driving at or above the legal limit. Driving might be less stressful if everyone backed off a little."

But Erin Gilland Roby has a different take: "Tell your readers to chill out regarding the left lane law change," she wrote. "Virginia has had it for years, and I [a daily commuter to that state] have yet to see anyone yield when a speeder signals, and I have yet to see anyone stopped for ANY reason, let alone this one. The police have too much fun stopping speeders so why do you want to take away their fun? Giving the left lane to speeders will encourage them to use it and make it very easy for the police to pick them off in speed traps."

Roughest roads

A loyal reader suggested an idea "for a future column." Mark Middlebusher writes, "How about a survey for where the roughest roads are in Howard County?"

He nominates the "100 plus yards of Gorman Road eastbound between Stephens Road and the elementary school."

Why? "There at least three huge bumps in the road there because of construction and steel plates going on at Stone Lake subdivision. Maybe it will get repaved there before my car needs another alignment or shocks need replacing," he said.

Whether it becomes a whole column is up to you, folks. Where are the "roughest" roads out there? And what have these roads done to your vehicles?

What's your traffic trauma? Contact Jody K. Vilschick at or send faxes to 410-715-2816. Technophobes can mail letters to Traffic Talk, The Sun in Howard County, 5570 Sterrett Place, Suite 300, Columbia 21044.

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