SUVs – Be a Sport – Watch Out for Cars

SUVs – Be a Sport – Watch Out for Cars


Guest Column
The St Petersburg Times
August 1, 1999

On an early sunny morning, at the STOP sign on Regent’s Park and Bruce B. Downs, I am waiting in my car to turn left. The traffic is not clear yet for me to get to the island on Bruce B. Downs South. While he is drinking his coffee, impatience is brewing in the driver in the SUV behind me.

In a time, when people’s quality of life is judged by how unhurried they are, and by whether you not only have time to smell the roses but plant ’em too, in contrast, I can feel his annoyance spewing in my rear view mirror. I pay no attention to him. I have to think of the safety of my daughter and myself.

Well, the traffic is clear and I get to the island. He follows me closely on my right and during this time he has already received or placed a cell-phone call. I can hardly see the traffic beyond his huge SUV and I take no chances merging with the traffic.

Oh, what is this? Is he motioning to me that the traffic is clear for me to go ahead? Maybe, he is making these hand gestures as part of his cell-phone call? Since he is in a hurry, I motion him to go ahead. I am not in a mood to play Russian roulette.

He again motions me to go ahead, and a second later, a red convertible Mustang goes whizzing by. Thank God, he is not a traffic cop in this life or his last one. Finally, he goes first and I have a clearer view of the traffic. Is that how you want to start your working day?

In January 1998, I was in my first and only car accident since I started driving in 1984. I was in the same island, and I inched forward to see if it was clear for me to merge, because again, an SUV had moved all the way to the yellow line on my right, and was blocking my vision. Since I was inching forward, the car driver behind me on the island thought that I was merging in the traffic and bumped me from behind. Luckily, I did not get pushed too far into the traffic. I thanked God that it was just a fender-bender for both of us as it could have been more tragic – both my daughters were in the car on the way to school.

LTV (SUV, minivan and pick-up truck) drivers need to realize that their seats are higher than the car drivers (that is not the reason to “look down” on us), that they have better visibility than their peers in cars, and what is most important, that the size of their vehicle blocks our vision of the road. All these factors may make you think for a moment that we got our driver’s license out of a Cracker Jack box.

However, we car drivers have reason to be cautious. In a crash, LTV-car accidents have higher fatality than car-car accidents. In 1996, just over 4,000 people died in a car-to-car collision. In the same year, over 5,400 people were killed in LTV-to-car crashes, in spite that only one-third of the vehicles on the road in America is LTVs. The reasons for the higher death count are simple.

First, the sheer weight (mass for you engineering types) of LTVs and hence the impact, a product of mass and speed (velocity for you engineering types) on the collided car can be deadly.

Second, of the LTVs, SUVs have more stiffness in their front and back bumpers, meaning that the SUV bumpers do not bend or deform as much as car bumpers in a crash, and hence create more damage to the car they collided with.

Third, a typical SUV bumper is “still” (since 1990) seven inches higher than a car bumper. So the SUV could drive over a car like a tank. Recently, near Tampa Palms Blvd, an SUV bumped one of my friends from behind. The bumper on her Toyota Camry was undamaged not because that it was a low-velocity impact or that her car-bumper was highly impact-resistant, but because it never touched the bumper. The SUV plowed directly into her car-trunk. My friend walked away from the accident but had a damage of $2,000 to her car.

I do not know how many accidents LTVs cause indirectly. These observations are purely anecdotal, but just think about them and you will see how familiar these causes are. Note, all these indirect causes can be avoided by using extra caution on part of car drivers.

First, when I started driving, my driving instructor gave me one advice – “Do not drive in front or behind a truck.” Now, this advice stands well in the 1990s for LTVs. If an LTV is behind you and you have to make a sudden stop, it takes an LTV longer to make the same stop. And, if you are behind an LTV, your vision of the traffic ahead is hampered to keep up with the flow of the traffic. So, that space people leave in front while driving is for our safety and not for yours to take so that you can do your victory dance.

Second, if you are a car driver, have you tried to back out of a parking spot if LTVs are parked next to you? Not only is it difficult to come out of those parking spots as some LTVs are almost as wide as the parking spots, you cannot see the traffic while backing out. I try to park next to cars in parking lots but that is no guarantee your car will be still parked next to cars when you come back.

Third, if you are trying to turn left at an intersection and if an LTV is in the opposing left lane trying to do the same, do not do it! You are taking a chance on your life as one seldom can clearly see the traffic going straight in the opposing lane. Three years ago, my friend was driving a car and took that chance at the crossing of Fletcher Avenue and 50th Street. He totaled his car but luckily walked away with minor injuries.

It has been said that people buy LTVs (mainly SUVs and pickup trucks) to get the feel of being a modern hero as portrayed in the TV commercials. But, is that the only way to be a hero in this world? If this is your reason to drive an LTV, please become a Big Brother or Big Sister. However, residents of North Tampa, I believe, are hardly that egotistical!

The other reason believed for buying LTVs is that they are safer to drive than cars but that safety is just yours. Maybe your teenager just got their license and is driving a compact car like I do. The overall safety of our society is as important as that of individuals.

When I showed this column to my friend, she said, “Maybe people will think you are envious of LTV drivers.” Far from it; there are many cars that cost much more and are safer than any LTV I know of. I personally prefer cars as they are easy to handle, have a low center of gravity (translation – lower chance of rollover), and more importantly environmentally less polluting and draining on our precious natural resources (I am not a global warming nut, either).

I hardly know a friend or a neighbor in North Tampa who does not have an LTV. I may be a dying breed in the North Tampa suburbia, but I do not want to die yet. I do not want to annoy my LTV driving friends either because of my opinion as I have written this article both with seriousness and jest. Almost all of you are courteous and many of you are better drivers than I will ever be.

So if you see me driving a blue Tercel on Bruce B. Downs, honk and I will try to get out of your way. I cannot help but implore quoting King (yes, no other than Rodney King), “Can we get along?”

Autar Kaw, “SUVs – Be a Sport – Watch Out for Cars”, Guest
Column, The Saint Petersburg Times, August 1, 1999, last accessed at