The Irritations of Modern Life: 51. People Carriers

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The Independent Culture
SO NOW we know. Should you crash head-first into something while driving your people carrier, four things will happen: the front section will cave in, the steering wheel will plunge into your chest like a metal assegai, your left leg will be sheared off and, because the child restraints are so ineffectual, your children will fly across the vehicle like doomed Peter Pans. Oh, and any pedestrian hit in this notional accident runs a higher than usual risk of being killed. So much for the British middle- class family's ultimate travelling machine.

Perhaps I exaggerate. After all, only the Chrysler Voyager scored the "zero safety rating" in tests at the Transport Research Laboratory in Berkshire. But the Peugeot 806 and the Vauxhall Cintra scored only one star for "pedestrian protection"; and of the eight vehicles tested only the Renault Espace and the Toyota Picnic got four-star ratings. "Unfortunately," the report concluded, "many of the `people carriers' we tested provided a very poor safety performance in frontal collisions".

Hah! I always thought there must be something wrong with them. But then I've loathed them for years for all kinds of non-technical reasons. They park outside the school gate, taking up acres of suburban lebensraum. They are a waste of space. Oh, but I'm forgetting. They're people carriers, not cars; they have a higher function than cars (symbolised by the driver's height above the road); they are transporters of personnel, as in a war. They suggest that this family is so in demand it's always in transit, dividing its time between school, gym, restaurant and party, between town house and sylvan glade.

They barrel along the motorway crammed with the impedimenta of middle- England holidaymaking. You can hear the wife cooing down from the bedroom window, "Darling, did you put the asparagus kettle in the Picnic?" These families. radiate smugness. They are driving the Chrysler Smug. They think it's the next thing up from driving a Volvo. But it's not. It's like driving a naff-looking cardboard box and pretending it's a tank.