Now, I have nothing against cars. Actually, I like cars. They can be useful and fun. Unfortunately, the problem is that many people who operate cars don’t realize they’re operating machines, and this is because cars have become so coddling that operating one requires only slightly more effort than watching the Tour de France on your sofa in a state of semi-consciousness while wearing a pair of adult diapers. Yes, the roads are full of bloated vehicles driven by people who need interior microclimates and crow’s nest vantage points and nine airbags and DVD players to distract their kids and 70-point monitoring systems to keep them awake. Meanwhile, some people think the answer is more efficient cars or alternative energy sources. I strongly disagree. The answer is legislation requiring that all cars have manual transmissions, no airbags, and carbeurated, air-cooled engines with no more than 1500cc displacement. That way, people would actually need to know how to drive, and they’d also have to pay attention to what they were doing.
This quote fits right in along with this part from Gladwell’s article on the unpredictable rise of the SUV:
[The SUV] is a new idea, and one largely confined to North America. In Europe and Japan, people think of a safe car as a nimble car. That’s why they build cars like the Jetta and the Camry, which are designed to carry out the driver’s wishes as directly and efficiently as possible. In the Jetta, the engine is clearly audible. The steering is light and precise. The brakes are crisp. The wheelbase is short enough that the car picks up the undulations of the road. The car is so small and close to the ground, and so dwarfed by other cars on the road, that an intelligent driver is constantly reminded of the necessity of driving safely and defensively. An S.U.V. embodies the opposite logic. The driver is seated as high and far from the road as possible. The vehicle is designed to overcome its environment, not to respond to it. Even four-wheel drive, seemingly the most beneficial feature of the S.U.V., serves to reinforce this isolation. Having the engine provide power to all four wheels, safety experts point out, does nothing to improve braking, although many S.U.V. owners erroneously believe this to be the case. Nor does the feature necessarily make it safer to turn across a slippery surface: that is largely a function of how much friction is generated by the vehicle’s tires. All it really does is improve what engineers call tracking—that is, the ability to accelerate without slipping in perilous conditions or in deep snow or mud.
Jettas are safe because they make their drivers feel unsafe. S.U.V.s are unsafe because they make their drivers feel safe. That feeling of safety isn’t the solution; it’s the problem.