That shiny red sport utility vehicle may be the coolest car in
the parking lot, but it and other SUVs pose severe safety hazards
for drivers and pedestrians, New York Times reporter Keith Bradsher
said to a crowd gathered at the School of Natural Resources and
Environment yesterday.

Candace Mui
New York Times reporter Keith Bradsher speaks in the Dana Building yesterday regarding what he calls “The Dangerous Rise of the SUV.” (MIKE HULSEBUS/Daily)

Bradsher added that drivers younger than 25 are more likely to
get into dangerous accidents with SUVs.

“Teenagers and young drivers should not drive SUVs,”
Bradsher said following the talk. “Even the vice president
for safety of Ford (Motor Co.) said that she doesn’t believe
in SUVs for young drivers.”

Bradsher’s talk focused on his new book, “High and
Mighty: The Dangerous Rise of the SUV,” which can be bought
at local bookstores. The talk was co-sponsored by the
University’s Center for Sustainable Systems and its Office
for the Study of Automotive Transportation.

The book represents his nearly 10 years of research on SUVs and
the automotive industry. He spent much of that time covering
automotive issues in Michigan as Detroit bureau chief for the Times
from 1996 to 2001.

In the book, Bradsher describes the history of SUVs and details
their impact on road safety and the environment. He writes that the
primary danger to the driver of an SUV is that the vehicle is more
likely to roll over than a smaller car. “Hitting a curb can
flip you in a less stable vehicle. You’re much more likely to
flip when you’re in an SUV,” he said.

He reports that SUVs represent a serious danger to smaller
vehicles. Because they are taller than other cars, they may bypass
the bumper and other protective features of small cars and strike
more vulnerable areas. Also, in highly populated areas, the lower
maneuverability of SUVs makes them a particular threat to
pedestrians, he said.

This lower maneuverability, renders SUVs more difficult for
young people to control, he added. Although parents believe the
large vehicles will keep their children safer, “it’s
particularly a mistake for young people because of their propensity
for getting into rollovers and getting distracted,” he
said.

Bradsher said the automobile industry has begun to address
safety concerns. For example, 15 automobile manufacturers have
pledged to redesign their SUV models by 2009 so that the
vehicles’ hardest parts will collide with the harder parts of
smaller cars in the event of an accident. Some manufacturers, such
as Ford, have also voluntarily improved the environmental impact of
their SUVs.

Some audience members expressed concerns that increased
regulations could injure an industry that represents a vital
lifeline for the American economy.

“In my opinion, finding ways to reduce the impact (of
regulations) on the domestic industry hasn’t received enough
attention,” said Charles Griffith of Ann Arbor’s
Ecology Center. “They’re a huge part of the political
and economic base of this country.”

When, during his introduction to the talk, CSS co-drector Greg
Keoleian asked the audience of about 50 whether anyone owned an
SUV, only one person raised his hand. However, Bradsher said that
nationwide, the vehicles comprise about 30 percent of all
automobile sales.

SNRE student Maya Fischhoff said she found Bradsher’s
speech interesting. “People have a big emotional response to
SUVs. They’re big, they’re shiny … so it’s
easy to be drawn. Learning about the social and environmental costs
takes more effort.”

Warnings notwithstanding, University students seem as confident
of their driving abilities as youth have been since the car’s
invention.

“I don’t feel unsafe in them,” said LSA
freshman Joe Filloy, whose family owns an SUV, as do several of his
friends. “I don’t feel like it makes them unsafe if you
drive them the way they’re supposed to be driven.”

But LSA freshman Elizabeth Gadwood, whose family also owns an
SUV, said that although the vehicles don’t make her feel
unsafe, she would not buy one. “It’s too big for me. If
feel like I can’t go as quickly around turns … (and)
it’s harder to park in Ann Arbor.”

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