Many of their original owners have seen the light and jumped to the Prius, but the SUVs are still on the road, and in some ways, it's even worse than it was. Because anyone who's driving one these days, at least on the L.A. freeways, is either poor or stupid, which is bad news for the rest of us.
For many of the poor, these supersized-vehicles have, in Republican parlance, "trickled down." They are now, ironically, cheaper than the more economical and environmentally responsible cars on the market, and they are all the poor can afford. For many of them, these are their first cars ever. Most have never driven anything else. A good number are untutored and unlicensed. At the thought of them behind the wheel of an old Suburban, coming at your Prius or even Lexus or Ford a little too fast around one of those curves on Sunset, you should, yes, be afraid.
But it's the other owners, the ones with a choice in the matter, who are perhaps more frightening, since they are clearly either selfish or stupid, or an admixture of both. They know the social and planetary costs of their choice, know they have an alternative, but still choose to guzzle gas and constitute a lethal danger to their fellow citizens who have done the right thing and put themselves on the road in lighter cars, with less steel around them, but these SUV owners don't care.
What they care about is themselves, and, they'll rush to tell you, "their children," but do they really? How about the world their children will inherit? How about the children in the cars they hit, the children maimed and killed in the Prius they hit on the Ronald Reagan Freeway the other day?
I read the police report -- the SUV pulled out without looking. I guess it figured it didn't have to. It was an Escalade, the worst of all -- half-bully, half-coward, Cheney-Rumsfeld style. The driver was on the phone.
How high do gas prices have to go to stop them? Or is that even the question, since what would 10-dollar-a-gallon gas be to them? They don't even look when they charge it -- no one does. The poor because they can't, the rich because it doesn't matter. Sixty dollars, 150 dollars -- it's like school tuitions: If you can afford it, you can afford double. No sweat.
But as for the rest of the world -- what do we do about them? Expect to be afraid.