Owners of small cars know the feeling. You look in your rearview mirror and discover it's filled with the sight of a sport-utility vehicle (SUV) way too close for comfort. And you muse that getting behind the wheel of a Jeep Grand Cherokee or an Isuzu Rodeo must bring out the bully-boy raging to roam free of all traffic laws.
It's small comfort to learn that women are as enamored of the sport-utility behemoth as are men.
But now it seems some insurance companies are ready to admit that the big, clunky SUVs, as they're called, are inflicting far worse damage in traffic accidents than they're sustaining. Both Farmers Insurance Group and Progressive Insurance are raising premiums on SUVs to reflect the liability costs stemming from both property damage and personal injury claims. The rest of the insurance companies would do well to follow their example.
What became of the baby-boomers' high-minded desire to be kind to the environment? Nearly 30 years ago, we throatily sang about "harmony and understanding; sympathy and trust abounding ..."
Today, millions of those same starry-eyed baby boomers with waist sizes and assets considerably increased are hopping in their Range Rovers and GMC Yukons to ride roughshod over Toyota Tercels and Geo Metros on the way to the office.
The SUVs are touted as vehicles for those who want the world to get out of their way: 8-cylinder, V-8 "equalizers" gobbling a gallon of gasoline every 12 miles.
Putting aside the accident problem these vehicles pose, they evoke the "ugly American" image to the rest of the world that is just now poised to consider cutbacks in greenhouse-gas emissions.
Here we are, a mere 5 percent of the world's population, spewing out 25 percent of the fossil-fuel gases that envelop the planet.
And we have the temerity to ask third world nations to cut back on their own greenhouse-gas emissions.
It's said that the average American is responsible for eight times as much greenhouse-gas emission as the average Chinese.
This past summer, Americans tanked up at gas pumps like never before. During the first eight months of the year, we averaged a record 336 million gallons of gasoline per day.
No wonder Brazilians in the Amazon rain forest tell American environmentalists and climatologists to take a hike when it's pointed out that the "slash and burn" farming in the Amazon basin is hastening the destruction of the irreplaceable rain forest.
In December, the international summit on global warming will be held in Kyoto, Japan.
The US is in the uncomfortable position of trying to convince polluting nations to decrease their dependence on fossil fuels while we display a faint-hearted attempt at doing the same.
A sport utility vehicle in every American driveway is no way to convince the world to save itself.
So long as we play high-and-mighty behind the wheel of gas-hogging SUVs, we're bound to remind lesser nations of the "ugly American" stereotype, quick to quip: "Don't do as I do; do as I say."
* Richard Harsham is a Cincinnati-based freelancer.