Hefty Hummers, heavy Chevys travel roads
limited to lighter vehicles
By Michael Gormley
Albany Times Union
ALBANY – "What's a truck?"
The answer to that question posed by a New York assemblyman
could end up restricting which highways and streets increasingly
larger sport utility vehicles will be allowed to travel in
Assemblyman Ivan Lafayette's weighty question is the first
shot of its kind nationally across the hood of the biggest
SUVs. He said SUVs over 6,000 pounds routinely violate federal
and state truck route laws pegged to vehicle weight and should
be held to the same standards as their commercial cousins.
"Where does a passenger vehicle end and a truck begin?"
the New York City Democrat asked. "Is a 10,000-pound
Hummer a truck?"
A typical compact Honda, by contrast, weighs about 2,400
Lafayette said federal safety records show a retreat from
years of improving highway safety and he blames large SUVs,
partly because other drivers have a hard time seeing around
the wider, taller vehicles. The assemblyman, who drives a
Ford Taurus, is targeting nearly two dozen models that all
weigh more than 6,000 pounds.
For example, the biggest SUV models offered by Ford, GMC,
Cadillac and other manufacturers routinely travel meandering
commuter parkways with easy, toll-free access to residential
areas. If Lafayette's idea becomes law, these SUVS would have
to join commercial trucks on interstate highways or other
truck routes – some of them toll roads – with
wider driving lanes, stronger road beds and long, straight
stretches between exits.
The Hummer Club, the national owners' organization based
in Belmont, Calif., also hasn't heard of such an effort and
said Lafayette was just jumping on the SUV-bashing bandwagon.
"What legislator in his right mind would want to do
that?" said Ron Bomhoff, vice president of The Hummer
Club. "It's just like they attack popular celebrities
for the same reason, because the press will report on it."
He said Hummers, the biggest of the big SUVs with an average
weight of about 7,000 pounds, are as maneuverable as smaller
passenger cars on streets and parkways and can fit in most
8-foot-wide parking spaces. At 7-feet wide, he said Hummers
are a foot narrower than most buses.
In July, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
reported that the fatality rate for SUVs and passenger cars
of similar weight was essentially the same in non-rollover
crashes. Death rates rose significantly for SUV occupants
in rollovers. SUVs now account for about 25 percent of all
the vehicles sold in the United States, according to analysts.