Anti-SUV Activists Versus the American Family, by Matthew Craig

When you get behind the wheel of your SUV or minivan, do you automatically become a member of a hate group? According to the radicals now dominating the environmental movement, driving one of these vehicles proves you hate the planet.

To the contrary: SUV and minivan owners are often law-abiding American families that are simply obeying the law.

While the owners of compact and hybrid cars can smugly believe they are saving the world and saving money at the gas pump, their choice of vehicle is not for everyone. SUV-haters fail to understand the needs of the average American family and these vehicles are now more popular than traditional passenger cars.1

In many ways, government programs make SUVs and minivans necessary.

Regulations in many states require children five years and younger (seven years and younger in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C.) to be restrained in child seats at all times.2 Furthermore, the federal government recommends that children under 12 ride in the backseat.3 This literally makes it impossible for a family with four kids to fit into a traditional passenger car, let alone bring along any of their young friends.

Critics characterize SUV and minivan owners as wannabe survivalists wasting gas and clogging the roads with unsafe vehicles. However, when driven properly, SUVs and minivans are actually safer than cars. For front, side and rear crashes, their occupant fatality rate per 100,000 registered vehicles is 5.83 percent lower than for passenger cars.4 Simply wearing seat belts would save an additional 1,000 lives per year, while driving with common sense greatly reduces much-publicized rollover deaths.5

These critics also want to increase the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards that force manufacturers to improve gas mileage. Doing so, however, would lead to higher prices and compromise size and safety. Existing CAFE standards already are cited by the government as responsible for 2,000 traffic deaths per year.6 And, with every 100 pounds that CAFE standards cut from the weight of a vehicle, the annual death toll increases by approximately 300 lives.7

Improving gas mileage, surprisingly, won’t necessarily help the environment. According to Andrew Kleit of Pennsylvania State University, better gas mileage encourages more driving.8 Fuel-efficient cars that reduce the cost per mile make it cheaper to drive more. Since some pollutant levels are directly proportional to the number of miles driven, CAFE standards can actually increase pollution.

Faced with the increasing popularity of SUVs and minivans despite their best efforts to demonize them, some frantic environmentalists are resorting to slanderous rhetoric and even violence to try to stem the tide.

Keith Bradsher’s contempt is particularly noteworthy. According to reviewer Gregg Easterbrook, writing in the New Republic, in his book High and Mighty: SUVs – The World’s Most Dangerous Vehicles and How They Got That Way,9 Bradsher displays his concern about SUVs entering the used car market where they will be bought by “immigrants, the lower middle class, and the poor, who generally speed, run lights, drive drunk, and crash more often than the prosperous classes.” This sort of generalization is dangerous and hateful, and perpetuates already problematic racial stereotypes.

In Virginia, Oregon and Pennsylvania, the eco-terrorists of the Earth Liberation Front are discouraging SUV purchases through vandalism, arson and the acidic disfigurement of SUVs at dealerships. These actions force owners to live in fear of becoming the next target of what the FBI considers to be one of the most active domestic terrorist groups.10

Transportation is a modern necessity. Big government has inadvertently made SUVs and minivans the only vehicles that can accommodate many families. But those same people who advocate safety requirements that make these larger vehicles a must-have for larger families are simultaneously trying to legislate them out of existence with unsafe fuel-efficiency mandates.

While their logic is muddled, one thing is clear: if these activists succeed, American families will be hurt.

Matthew Craig is a research associate with The National Center for Public Policy Research. 


1 “Light Truck Country,” Alliance of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers, Washington, D.C.

2 Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Highway Loss Data Institute, available at as of July 23, 2003.

3 “Child Restraint Laws,” National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation, Arlington, Virginia, 2003, available at as of July 23, 2003.

4 “The Facts on SUV Safety,” Alliance of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers, Washington, D.C.

5 Ibid.

6 “Effectiveness and Impact of Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) Standards (2002),” National Academy of Sciences, Washington, D.C., available at as of August 5, 2003.

7 David Ridenour, “Raising Sports Utility Vehicle Fuel Efficiency Standards Would Kill Americans,” National Policy Analysis #256, The National Center for Public Policy Research, Washington, D.C., July 1999, available at

8 Andrew N. Kleit, “CAFE Changes, By the Numbers,” Regulation, Volume 25, Number 3, The Cato Institute, Washington, D.C., Fall 2002, available at as of July 23, 2003.

9 Gregg Easterbrook, “Axle of Evil,” The New Republic, January 20, 2003.

10 Wesley Sholtes, “Earth Liberation Front Terrorizes Pennsylvania Property Owners,” New York Property Rights Clearinghouse, Volume 7, Number 2, The Property Rights Foundation of America, Stony Creek, New York, Spring 2002.

The National Center for Public Policy Research is a communications and research foundation supportive of a strong national defense and dedicated to providing free market solutions to today’s public policy problems. We believe that the principles of a free market, individual liberty and personal responsibility provide the greatest hope for meeting the challenges facing America in the 21st century.