Jason Hart's SUV, and Notion of Safety, Both Take Hits

Steve Luhm of the Salt Lake Tribune reports that the Jazz guard Jason Hart's Cadillac Escalade -- with nobody in it -- was parked in the bowels of Energy Solutions Arena yesterday when a delivery truck did some damage.

Hart was told about the accident after the shootaround. He went out to inspect the damage, made a couple of phone calls and returned to the locker room to get dressed.

On his way back to the parking lot, Hart stopped and said, "It's the inconvenience. It's not material. It's just -- now -- I've got to call and get me a rent-a-car and they're going to try and give me a car that's [worth] $40,000 less than what I drive. I don't want my kids back there sitting low. But you know how insurance companies do it."

For some reason that "I don't want my kids back there sitting low" thing was an eye-opener to me. Jason Hart drives an Escalade for safety reasons? I had always assumed that vehicle was 99% about status.

I did a little searching, and found that, lucky me, Malcolm Gladwell has addressed this topic, in a 2004 New Yorker article called "Big and Bad":

The truth, underneath all the rationalizations, seemed to be that S.U.V. buyers thought of big, heavy vehicles as safe: they found comfort in being surrounded by so much rubber and steel.

To the engineers, of course, that didn't make any sense, either: if consumers really wanted something that was big and heavy and comforting, they ought to buy minivans, since minivans, with their unit-body construction, do much better in accidents than S.U.V.s. (In a thirty-five m.p.h. crash test, for instance, the driver of a Cadillac Escalade -- the G.M. counterpart to the Lincoln Navigator -- has a sixteen-per-cent chance of a life-threatening head injury, a twenty-per-cent chance of a life-threatening chest injury, and a thirty-five-per-cent chance of a leg injury. The same numbers in a Ford Windstar minivan -- a vehicle engineered from the ground up, as opposed to simply being bolted onto a pickup-truck frame -- are, respectively, two per cent, four per cent, and one per cent.)

Maybe this fender bender is in fact good news for Jason Hart's kids. Maybe they'll end up in a safer, rented minivan for a while.

And, whoa, how about this for a kicker: Gladwell cites something amazing from the book "High and Mighty" by Keith Bradsher.

According to Bradsher, internal industry market research concluded that S.U.V.s tend to be bought by people who are insecure, vain, self-centered, and self-absorbed, who are frequently nervous about their marriages, and who lack confidence in their driving skills.