Why bigger, more powerful, cars?

When Henry Ford was asked about the Model T, one of the first things he spoke of was how far it drove on a tank of gas: up to 500 miles at 31 miles per gallon! It was small, light, go-anywhere, carried 1000 pounds and, most of all, was affordable. How far we’ve come. In the search for a faster, bigger, more bulletproof car, it’s a case of “Beat the Joneses,” especially America’s love affair with trucks. Some of these so-called personal vehicles have exceeded the axle limit for trucks in the ‘50s. I remember the size and weight of some of the cars back then, when gas was 35 cents a gallon: Big fins, big engines (always a V8 under the long hood), exemplified by the Cadillac of 1959 with the pop-up taillights to reveal the gas cap.

Have we come very far since then? In fact, gas is cheaper, if you compare the dollar value and the price of bread and meat, then and now. The big car makers, especially in the USA, know this, that’s why they make engines that, just 35+ years ago in the last energy crisis, were unthinkable: 6.9 liters and up! New huge SUVs make a ‘60s Corvette seem to accelerate like a pedal car. I watched an Expedition SUV the other day alongside a Dodge Ram truck, revving up and then squealing tires off the line. Two three-ton behemoths, drag racing, in town!

And what do they do with all this power? They set the cruise control at 65 on the highway and turn on the in-car DVD for the kids, complete with headsets. The front seats have their own stereo with more buttons than a Jumbo Jet. Note that more gadgets means more buttons which means more distraction crashes. When that 3-ton personal vehicle crashes, whoever is in the way in a smaller car is toast.

The environment is toast too; it’s not just the gas they guzzle but the cost of making a 3-ton vehicle of plastic and steel instead of two smaller SUVs for the same weight of material. This is short-term thinking. The profit in making these huge SUVs and flatbeds (without actual car safety regulations except light truck rules which date, mostly, from 1948) is actually higher per pound than your average sedan. Yes, higher. So why do they cost so much? It looks bigger, feels bigger, and if you believe the marketing, you are getting more too. Yeah, non-monocoque safety, more steel, less engineering, less drive-ability, less handling safety. But don’t check those things out, check out the big, fat, manly tires!

Today we’re faced with concerns, fiscal and civic, directly related to these road hogs.

Drivers have no training in driving a 3-ton moving lump of steel (as opposed to semi truck drivers, who do). The price of gas is edging up and the more gas we buy at the pump, the more vulnerable we become to foreign pressure. And not least, our accident, health and car insurance rates will be going up continually, in part because of the severity of the damage done by these road warriors when they hit something or someone.

In this race to beat the Jones, we’re now committed to roadways jammed with huge, gas-guzzling, less safe (for everyone) road tanks. Someday, hopefully, common sense will prevail.

 

Peter Riva, a former resident of Amenia Union, now lives in New Mexico.

Latest News

Thru hikers linked by life on the Appalachian Trail

Riley Moriarty

Provided

Of thousands who attempt to walk the entire length of the Appalachian Trail, only one in four make it.

The AT, completed in 1937, runs over roughly 2,200 miles, from Springer Mountain in Georgia’s Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest to Mount Katahdin in Baxter State Park of Maine.

Keep ReadingShow less
17th Annual New England Clambake: a community feast for a cause

The clambake returns to SWSA's Satre Hill July 27 to support the Jane Lloyd Fund.

Provided

The 17th Annual Traditional New England Clambake, sponsored by NBT Bank and benefiting the Jane Lloyd Fund, is set for Saturday, July 27, transforming the Salisbury Winter Sports Association’s Satre Hill into a cornucopia of mouthwatering food, live music, and community spirit.

The Jane Lloyd Fund, now in its 19th year, is administered by the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation and helps families battling cancer with day-to-day living expenses. Tanya Tedder, who serves on the fund’s small advisory board, was instrumental in the forming of the organization. After Jane Lloyd passed away in 2005 after an eight-year battle with cancer, the family asked Tedder to help start the foundation. “I was struggling myself with some loss,” said Tedder. “You know, you get in that spot, and you don’t know what to do with yourself. Someone once said to me, ‘Grief is just love with no place to go.’ I was absolutely thrilled to be asked and thrilled to jump into a mission that was so meaningful for the community.”

Keep ReadingShow less
Getting to know our green neighbors

Cover of "The Light Eaters" by Zoe Schlanger.

Provided

This installment of The Ungardener was to be about soil health but I will save that topic as I am compelled to tell you about a book I finished exactly three minutes before writing this sentence. It is called “The Light Eaters.” Written by Zoe Schlanger, a journalist by background, the book relays both the cutting edge of plant science and the outdated norms that surround this science. I promise that, in reading this book, you will be fascinated by what scientists are discovering about plants which extends far beyond the notions of plant communication and commerce — the wood wide web — that soaked into our consciousnesses several years ago. You might even find, as I did, some evidence for the empathetic, heart-expanding sentiment one feels in nature.

A staff writer for the Atlantic who left her full-time job to write this book, Schlanger has travelled around the world to bring us stories from scientists and researchers that evidence sophisticated plant behavior. These findings suggest a kind of plant ‘agency’ and perhaps even a consciousness; controversial notions that some in the scientific community have not been willing or able to distill into the prevailing human-centric conceptions of intelligence.

Keep ReadingShow less