Sneed Collard

Question: in the last couple of weeks, have you had your line of sight blocked by one of the giant oversized pickup trucks and SUVs that have filled our roadways? Perhaps while you were trying to pull out of a parking space, or maneuver in traffic? If you own an oversized vehicle, your answer may be “no.” For the rest of us, the answer is almost surely a resounding “yes”—and you are not alone.

In the past decade, oversized pickup trucks have propagated through Montana like a hostile alien invasion. I am not talking about your dad’s or grandad’s modest-sized pickups. No, the new generation of trucks resemble military assault vehicles in size, appearance, and weight.

We’ve all observed how these vehicles bloat into our parking spaces and road lanes, but their weight is especially revealing. A typical mid-size car weighs north of 3,000 pounds. A modern pickup weighs from 4,000 to almost 9,000 pounds. These large vehicles devour a disproportionate share of our planet’s resources. They also are proving deadly to the rest of us.

A 2019 study found that a modern pickup truck was 159 percent more likely than a smaller car to kill another smaller car’s passenger. Oversized vehicles are reaping an equally bloody toll on pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists. A recent study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that pickups were four times as likely to kill a pedestrian when making a left-hand turn.

Other studies have found that pedestrians are much more likely to be killed when struck by larger trucks, vans, and SUVs than by normal passenger cars. After decades of declining pedestrian and cyclist deaths, fatalities are again on the rise—and the culprits are large vehicles.

So why are large vehicles so popular? For many, an oversized pickup truck represents status and power—the macho equivalent of a sports car. People may justify it with the fact that they go hunting occasionally—or have to haul a fifth-wheel to a campground once a year—but the truck basically is a luxury car masquerading as a utility vehicle.

But not all blame lies with truck buyers. Under pressure from the domestic auto industry, the federal government has created a crazy two-tiered system in which “light trucks” (SUVs, minivans, and pickups) have to meet much lower fuel economy standards than other cars—and that these requirements depend on a vehicle’s footprint. This has led to larger, heavier, deadlier vehicles that fill more and more space.

The auto industry has also convinced the feds to offer insane tax benefits to business owners who buy obscenely-sized pickups and SUVs. And we haven’t even mentioned how profit margins on large vehicles sales dwarf those on smaller cars. Many automobile manufacturers now emphasize large pickups over all other vehicles, offering generous incentives to “mount up”—even though it will cost owners thousands of dollars more in fuel and insurance during a vehicle’s lifetime.

I understand that many people depend on their pickups for work—and this essay is not aimed at them. My first choice isn’t really to tax unnecessary oversized vehicles, either. As a society, we need to get them off the road. They are dangerous. They exact untold extra costs on municipalities in extra road maintenance and emergency services.

In an era when climate change threatens our collective future, oversized vehicles move us in exactly the wrong direction on conserving our planet’s resources. Car companies and large vehicle owners know this. The rest of us shouldn’t be paying for it.