Recently, a reader sent us a link to a video on YouTube that they wanted us to cover. Truth is, I had already seen the video floating around on YouTube and hadn’t check it out yet. Before I get into what it has to say, I want to talk about the audience it’s intended for, and that it’s mostly not me.
The problem with “These Stupid Trucks are Literally Killing Us” and the featured image of a child in front of a pickup truck in an urban environment is that it’s obviously aimed at preaching to the choir on this issue. Nobody who drives a pickup like that is going to give the video a chance at all, and many people who like these trucks and might buy one are probably in the same boat. I personally don’t like how blocky and brutalist new trucks have become in the last few years, but coming from a rural background where trucks are used for real work, I can’t help but cringe a bit at this, even though I know there’s a problem.
If they had gone with something like “Trucks Could Be A Lot Better” with a graphic explaining the problem in the thumbnail, they’d get a lot more viewers than they would by calling them “stupid trucks” and accusing their owners of not caring about children. You can’t insult the people who need to hear a message and expect them to keep listening.
That having been said, I want to explain why I think it’s bad that they preached to the choir here. There are some important problems with trucks these days that people really do need to think about. Worse, the problem (combined with some problems with driver mindset) is really leading to tragedy. In other words, I wish they had made something for general consumption, because what they had to say here does matter, and it matters a lot.
Let’s take a look at the video (my comments below if you don’t feel like watching it).
They start the video out by pointing out who the good guy is: walkable cities. Putting things close enough together where you can walk to them, or at least walk to the nearest rapid transit, helps to keep cost of living low, reduce emissions, and do a whole host of other good things that CleanTechnica readers already know about.
But, like any story with a good guy, there’s always a bad guy. And, for urbanists the bad guy is often cars. Instead of explaining how all cars are part of the problem (something the channel has already done), they skip ahead to the final boss of the bad guys: light trucks and SUVs (and not the small crossovers like my Bolt EUV, either). To make it look even worse, they showed some footage of the long-discontinued Ford Excursion.
Why are they the bad guy? Because they’re big, they pollute more, and they’re more likely to kill pedestrians and even people in small cars.
They then explain how the final boss of urban bad guys came to be. There didn’t used to be a lot of light trucks and SUVs in cities, but the Chicken Tax and the footprint rule in CAFE standards resulted in an explosion of trucks and SUVs doing things that trucks and SUVs didn’t used to do (drive around in cities a bunch). This led to a situation where auto manufacturers found SUVs a lot more profitable, due to being able to classify them as trucks instead of cars.
But, they needed to get people to want to buy them instead of cars, so they marketed them toward people who might go camping on the weekend, and toward people who wanted to feel safer in the city. There’s also the rising influence of militarism that they didn’t get to (just think about how there are 5.11 stores in malls now). A tank-like car appeals to people.
They then get into how they hurt people. The height of the front bumper is a big deal, because it doesn’t line up with the bumpers of smaller cars, leading to greater damage. There’s also the effect on pedestrians (at least adults), as they can’t slide over the hood and dissipate the crash energy, instead getting thrown down or even under the SUV or truck. Sitting up high is also bad for rollover risk (at least for gas-powered cars).
An even bigger problem is what you can’t see, literally, from the seat of one of these vehicles that have “better visibility.” You can’t see over the hood well enough to see what’s right in front of it, and this growing space you can’t see is big enough to fit a wayward child in a pedestrian-friendly city (perhaps even the driver’s child).
Car companies are pushing for cameras and proximity sensors instead of modifying hoodlines, which could be problematic in their own ways.
While all of these costs are high, there’s little actual benefit for suburban and urban drivers. Most of them never actually use the capabilities of the vehicle. They don’t haul a trailer, take it off road, or even on dirt roads. They only rarely even fold the seats down to put something big inside. This has gotten even worse as luxury SUVs entered the market, leading to cars with basically no light truck capability that still get classified as trucks.
They go on to promote station wagons over SUVs, but I don’t think that this is going to be an easy sell at all, at least in the United States. He knows that, but goes into the “but Europe” rant that Americans almost always roll their eyes at. He then even gets into minivans, and I can hear the even harder rolling of eyes. He even pushes for regulatory changes, which aren’t going to work in a country that votes for its leaders and wants SUVs.
Personally, I think he makes some very important points, but I don’t think he’s doing a very good job of convincing the owners of these vehicles to do something else. I’m not even sure we can really even get people to stop buying trucks and SUVs at this point without waiting for even my generation to age out of driving.
Instead, I think it’s probably more productive to try to solve the problems with technology instead of trying to turn Americans into Europeans. There’s no reason that driver assist systems can’t make trucks and SUVs safer. Electric drive can make them a lot cleaner. I think we’re better off to solve problems instead of kick against the pricks on this.
Featured image by GM.
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