We need to talk about trucks.
Big-assed, military-grade, extra cabin space where I can store my massive balls, huge payload, Sam Elliott-voiced navigation system trucks with a capital T Trucks. Road-hogging, grille in your face, monster SUV and pick-ups that have come to aggressively dominate our streets and roads. 150s. 250s. 1500s. 2500s. RAMs. Titans. Raptors. Highlanders. Tahoes. Traverses. Range Rovers. Explorers. Escalades. Avalanches and Wranglers.
Motherfucking I need to tow a boat I don’t have capital T Trucks.
They’re killing us.
According to a Slate article earlier this week, at a 16 year high in 2021 in the U.S., part of a twenty year upward trend, a 40 year high for pedestrians fatally mowed down. While Canada sees a fraction of the road deaths of the U.S., there’s been an upward jolt of fatalities here too over the last couple years. During a pandemic that saw a decrease in vehicle miles travelled.
The usual suspects have been trotted out. Distracted driving. Speeding. Decreased enforcement. Road design. Change back from DST (Stop Wearing Black, You Jaywalkers!). All culprits undoubtedly. We’re much more hesitant, however, to talk about the bulking out and up of the vehicles we’re increasingly driving in.
For our own perceived safety, as the Slate article points out. Inside, bigger, roomier, higher up, safely tucked away up, up, up, out of harm’s way. Outside? The killing fields. But who spends much time outside their truck anyway? It’s like a 4-star hotel room in here, I’m telling you.
Safety and comfort!
A match made in heaven.
Funny story, though.
It seems not to have been love at first sight between drivers and their vehicular behemoths.
In Keith Bradsher’s book, High and Mighty: SUVs – The World’s Most Dangerous vehicles and how they got that way, published back in 2002, the year SUVs first outsold regular automobiles in the U.S., consumers were initially put off by the early prototypes. According to Bob Lutz, perennial automaker CEO, “A whopping 80 percent of the respondents [focus group participants] disliked the bold new drop-fendered design. A lot even hated it!… the remaining 20 percent of the clinic participants were saying that they were truly, madly, deeply in love with the design! And since the old Ram had only about 4 percent of the market at the time, we figured, what the hell, even in only half of those positive respondents actually buy, we’ll more than double our share! The result? Our share of the pickup market shot up to 20 percent on the radical new design…”
4 out of 5 people disliked the bigger, bulkier, more menacing design, some of them, according to Lutz, hated it. All it took, though, was enough of the remaining 20% who ‘truly, madly, deeply’ loved the look to purchase the vehicles and quintuple the company’s market share of pickup sales to get the ball rolling toward dominance.
Lutz finished up the above quote with the chest-beating observation “… and Ford and Chevy owners gawked in envy!”
Envy. Covetousness. Status-seeking.
A minority of the driving public shamed and coaxed (along with the automotive industry manufacturing and designing consumer-preference as tightly and methodically as the vehicles themselves) everybody else into thinking they needed one too. And as the vehicles continued to grow bigger and bigger, more luxurious, so did the consumer appetite for them. Gas and interest rates were low, so money was no object. Gotta keep up with the Jones’s and my little kids safely buckled up in the back sofa there. It would be grievous parental misconduct not to protect my family. From all the other parents out there, driving these monsters.
The rise of these monstrous trucks and SUVs puts the lie to the notion we still love to embrace of ‘homo economicus’, the rational man at the centre of our free market system, his self-interest, the driving force of the delicate balance between supply and demand, the grease that keeps the machinery of free enterprise running smoothly. In no reasonable world does this choice of vehicle make a lick of sense. From an environmental standpoint. From a bodily injury perspective. From a social angle.
A driver, mounted in their impregnable fortress of a truck, high up over everyone else not also barricaded inside their own fortified citadel on wheels, impervious to any danger to yourself or loved ones inside with you, it doesn’t take much of leap of logic to imagine the approach to others sharing the road. Aggressive with a hint of intimidation. Who out there behind the wheel of a more modest, down-to-earth actual car, hasn’t looked into their rearview mirror to see a pugnacious truck grille looming close behind you in the rear window?
As a matter of fact, I do own the road.
If the story ended like that, the public good being subverted by corporate greed, bordering on malfeasance from the lack of safety features for every other road user that has to contend with their menacing presence, unregulated and cheered on by governments – The economy! Jobs! And Jobs! Jobs! Jobs! – and ad-dependent media outlets, oh well, ho hum. Is it a day that ends with ‘y’?
That is essentially the history of the automobile.
But, for me, it’s worse than that.
According to Bradsher in his book’s introduction, “The [SUV] manufacturers’ market researchers have decided that millions of baby boomers want an adventurous image and care almost nothing about putting others at risk to achieve it…”
It always comes back to the fucking baby boomers, amirite?
Aging toward oblivion, it’s a generation that thinks nothing of taking everything with them. Burn it all down on the way out. For what? The image. Rugged individualism. High-end status. Big trucks to fill big multiple garages in 4000-sq. foot houses. More money than medieval lords, vainly trying to live up to their parents’ lofty contributions. You defeated the Nazis? Yeah well, my ride can scale boulders while the kid’s school orchestra holds band practice in our backseat!
That’s what we did with the democracy you fought to save, pops.
I attach no cause and effect to the rise of the monster truck to our current political landscape of single-minded individualism, bitter divisiveness and gaping inequality. But they certainly serve as an apt symbol of all that. My personal comfort and protection versus everyone else’s. The general welfare and well-being be damned if it means me sacrificing so much as a smidgin of luxury, prestige and respect from the neighbours.
A definitive statement of sociopathic assholery.
And these days, that’s seen more as a successful boast rather than a character flaw.