Letters

Readers write in about SUV safety and how much money it takes to be a stress-free working mom.


Salon Staff
October 25, 2002 11:00PM (UTC)

[Read "Unsafe at Any Speed."]

Thanks to Suzy Hansen for such an in-depth interview, and especially to Keith Bradsher for drawing attention to the outrageous safety risks SUV manufacturers and owners blithely ignore. My husband, who reviews cars for a living and has taken a number of professional driving courses, flipped an SUV a few years ago in a classic example of the kind of one-vehicle accident Bradsher warns about: highway, rainstorm, blocked drain, deep puddle, hydroplane, slow slide toward the guardrail and boom, over they went. Mercifully no one in the vehicle was injured, but the SUV itself -- which happened to be a press vehicle my husband was reviewing -- was totaled. Funny, but the manufacturer didn't seem very surprised at the accident, nor at the level of damage.

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-- Karla Vermeulen

I don't know about you, but in the world I live in most SUVs are not especially intimidating and they certainly aren't usually $60,000. A good number of them aren't from Detroit, either. We have a $33,000 Nissan Pathfinder because we have two babies and a dog, and today's car seats take up a lot of space. Not to mention the space we need for other people and things. And it's not at all difficult to lift the kids into, by the way. Frankly, we find it is frequently too small (though I would never drive the kind of tank you refer to). Most people in my town with SUVs have similar models for similar reasons. You're generalizing. Maybe it's your California-centric viewpoint?

-- Jonathan Berg

My wife and I recently purchased a Mazda Protege 5. Our decision was driven largely by fuel economy; we commute 60 miles every day, and we're currently averaging about 30 mpg. Being used to larger vehicles (I've been driving a Ford Ranger for the past seven years), I thought I'd feel less safe in the smaller car, but it turns out not to be the case. If anything, I feel safer, partly because the MP5 has pretty good acceleration and braking, and partly because I have less car to worry about when moving in traffic. I'm not constantly afraid of getting clipped by someone or something I can't see. I'm more aware of where the car begins and ends. Although I enjoy riding as a passenger in an SUV, I'd be a basket case if I had to drive one. I know that if we get hit by an SUV we're dead, but on balance I'd say the MP5 was the right decision.

-- John Bode

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As long as this administration is connected by the umibilical cord to big oil and all its moneyed interests, they will continue to sabotage any true conservation efforts that encourage the decreased use of oil. Remember this is the man who said a good energy policy should encourage people to consume.

Truth and partisan politics like oil and water don't mix.

-- Ray Belongie

As for SUVs being more prone to rolling over, anyone with an elementary knowledge of physics should be able to figure that out! It is amazing that otherwise well educated people will completely ignore physical laws (which, unlike human laws, can't be avoided with a good lawyer or lobbied away). A vehicle with a higher center of mass and narrower wheel base is naturally going to be more prone to roll over. It's more difficult to roll over cars (and even minivans) than SUVs because their centers of mass are low to the ground and their wheel bases are comparatively broad for their sizes.

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I've never believed that SUVs handle better in snow because it doesn't square with my own experience. My husband, driving our 1996 Saturn, has passed SUVs on steep local hills in snowy and icy conditions. The SUVs' wheels were spinning helplessly while our dinky old front-wheel drive car easily handled the lousy road conditions. A high proportion of the cars we've seen spun out along the road in bad weather have been SUVs, probably because of the false sense of confidence that their drivers had from having four-wheel drive.

For all these reasons -- and not the least because SUVs are impractical, overpriced gas guzzlers that are expensive to maintain and insure -- we won't buy one of these monsters. We are also not willing to send people to die in the Middle East to maintain the cheap supplies of "black crack" that makes SUVs possible.

But then again, we actually give a damn about the environment and our fellow citizens, so obviously we're out of step with the times.

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-- Nancy Ott

[Read "The All-Too-Female Cluelessness of 'I Don't Know How She Does It.'"]

Critic Ann Marlowe, not author Alison Pearson, is the one suffering from intellectual dishonesty. By focusing on the 50 most successful businesswomen in America, Marlowe ignores the vast majority of professional women who must wrestle with exactly the sort of personal and professional compromises that Kate Reddy faces in Pearson's novel.

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Marlowe would have us believe that all gender inequity could be solved if women simply had the good sense to make $500,000 to $1 million a year. I'm sure she's right. But she's hardly being honest about the reality of most professional women's lives.

-- Justin Pittas-Giroux

I recently devoured the novel "I Don't Know How She Does It" and thought Ann Marlowe's dogmatic review was clever and made some valid points.

However, I feel that Marlowe, in dissecting the reality of Kate Reddy's profession and income, is throwing the baby (and the career!) out with the bath water. She reviewed this novel as some sort of investment banker documentary or a feminist thesis. It is neither of those things. "I Don't Know How She Does It" is a work of fiction and it should be enjoyed as such.

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Give us "sistahs" a little credit -- crazy as things are, we're not likely to model our own lives around a dysfunctional character like Kate Reddy, but ... if we're honest and have a sense of humor, we must admit that there's a little Kate in all of us.

To me, the brilliance of this novel is not so much the plot (and definitely not the disappointing ending!) but the nuggets -- the sly observations, emotional ennui and social commentary that are snuck in as asides to the story development.

The reviewer complains that an authentic Kate should not fret the household details -- a real executive would pay a domestic staff to handle things. But, even if she paid a personal chef to bake healthy and fresh goodies for the school holiday festival, would that make a mom feel any better about missing her daughter's play for a business trip? Whose responsibility would it be to direct the domestic staff and all the inherent drama involved in managing real people? Money can make things easier, but it's clueless to believe it's the answer to all working parents' issues.

Kate Reddy's fictional counterpart, Bridget Jones, is an exaggerated character -- we hardly expect single women to behave that way in real life.

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Can't we feminist mothers with home and office careers be allowed a little escapist "there, but for the grace of god, go I" fun?

-- Catherine Hurley

Ann Marlowe hasn't been out of investment banking long enough. Allison Pearson's "I Don't Know How She Does It" may be as dumb and dishonest as Marlowe argues, but clearly she believes that a smart and honest novel would be one that argued that all women should want to be investment bankers, devote all their waking moments to making gobs of money, and pay other people to raise their kids, if they're dumb enough to make the choice to have kids.

The throwaway remark about Jane Austen aside, Marlowe keeps score by counting the money. A woman's only worth in the world is decided if she ends the day with as big a pile as the worst kind of men. Imagine the advice she wants mothers and novelists to give little girls. "Dear, forget nursing, or teaching, or newspaper writing, or novel writing, because most novelists make no money. Jane Austen died poor by our standards. Forget even law, unless you plan to work for a big financial firm in New York or London. Go into business so you can grow up to be Dick Cheney or Jack Welch or Ken Lay or Bernard Ebbers of WorldCom or IMClone's Sam Waskal. And if you don't, child, why, you won't be equal to any men, you'll just be a girl, and you'll deserve to have to worry about how to make ends meet, live in terror of losing your job, and struggle to find time to give to the children you were stupid enough to have, considering your piddling salary, LOSER!"

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The world is a worse place since so many people, men and women, have accepted the values by which Marlowe judges Pearson's novel.

-- Dave Reilly

Talk about confused! Marlowe's own logic seems a little confusing. In one breath she talks of how such a large percentage of women in the highest ranks have kids (some more than two!) and how this is all handled by the house staff and nannies. And in the next breath it's on to how women don't need to have kids, they can just focus on their careers and that should be OK. Which is it? Because the reality is that it really can't be both.

Is Marlowe really saying that it makes no difference to the children that they are raised by "house staff"? Or is she saying that women who can't afford a "house staff" should decide not to have kids?

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And by the way, perhaps it has been too long since Marlowe worked in investment banking. I was just a lowly employee and the hours I worked were substantial (60 a week), but the women who were managing directors put in far more than that. All the money in the world doesn't make up for the fact that if they had children they certainly didn't see much of them.

So is Marlowe's point that all you need is money to have it all? Or does she think that women should have to choose between having children and having a career? It isn't at all clear from her logic.

-- Andee Steinman


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