Just noted: this abstract from an article (pdf) in the journal Crime, Media, and Culture:
Driven to extremes: Fear of crime and the rise of the sport utility vehicle in the United States
During the mid-1980s, the sport utility vehicle (SUV) emerged as one of the most popular automobiles in the United States, a trend that continued throughout the 1990s … Situating the SUV in the context of fear of crime and risk management during the 1980s and 1990s, it is suggested that the SUV’s popularity reflects American attitudes toward crime, random violence, and the importance of defended personal space. While consumer attraction to the SUV is typically attributed to two key features — safety and interior space — these pragmatic justifications may be viewed as euphemistic. Safety is not road safety but personal safety. Space is not interior cargo space but social space, including the privileged ability to traverse inhospitable terrain to remove oneself from society. (Emphasis added.)
This seems somewhat right to me. SUVs aren’t particularly safe vehicles to drive. But they feel safe, at least to some drivers. And that mostly has to do with being large and imposing — or, essentially, with being perceived as a menace. Managing other people’s perceptions might be important if the threat is strangers who mean to do you harm. But it’s irrelevant — or, more accurately, dangerous — if the threat is flipping upside down at 60 mph.
Which makes me wonder if there’s any way to convince people that being safe is actually more important than feeling safe. Sometimes I doubt it.