Should the Dodge Durango Hellcat Be Legal?

This giant SUV can go 180 mph. Why?

Durango Hellcat
Just what we needed: Durango Hellcat.


Emma Duncan writes in the Times of London:

If cars were invented now, there’s no way they would be legal. License a technology that kills 1700 people a year in this country directly, and somewhere between 28,000 and 36,000 a year through the pollution it causes, as well as being the single biggest contributor to climate change? You must be mad. 

Now as Exhibit A in this madness, North American-style, we present the 2021 Durango SRT Hellcat – an SUV designed for "muscle car people with families." As Alisa Priddle of Motor Trends notes, "That's one helluva family vehicle, and it all but eliminates any excuse its owners have for being late to soccer practice." It does 0 to 60 in 3.5 seconds, and the 6.2-liter V8 engine delivers 710 horsepower, pushing it to a top speed of 180 miles per hour. The global head of passenger cars at Chrysler says "the 710-horsepower Hellcat is the most powerful SUV ever." There's no way it should be legal (in 2022 it won't be because of fuel efficiency rule changes).

This, in a time when the streets have been empty and the air has been clean, and we could imagine a world without giant SUVs, and we get this thing. Emma Duncan continues, wondering how we ever got to this place.

We permit driving only because the car crept up on us slowly, with a man with a red flag in front of it at first. By the time we realized how dangerous it was, our cities had been designed around it and everyone had one as was just as unwilling as I am to let it go.

Motordom has been fighting regulation for over a hundred years.

Fighting against speed governors in Cincinnati
Fighting against speed governors in Cincinnati. Fighting Traffic/ Peter Norton

Actually, that's not quite true. Lots of people realized how dangerous cars were, and many municipalities tried to regulate them. One of the biggest fights was in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1923, when the city council proposed a law requiring speed governors on cars that would shut off their engines if they exceeded 25 miles per hour. Motordom organized and fought back. They invented the jaywalker, and they changed the discussion about safety. After their victory in Ohio, they never looked back, and never gave up fighting for speed and open roads. It didn't just happen. I wrote in an earlier post:

Instead, the approach to safety would be to control the pedestrians and get them out of the way, to separate them with jaywalking laws and strict controls. Over time, safety would be redefined to make roads safer for cars, not people.
Hellcat on Track
Hellcat on Track. FCA 

This all cleared the streets for the Durango Hellcat, the apotheosis of the SUV, demonstrating everything that is wrong with the American car. It's actually a truck, so it is regulated by different standards than conventional cars. Because it is American, there are no standards for pedestrian safety at all. Oh, and it's noisy:

The Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat’s exhaust system has been tuned to deliver the throaty, aggressive sound that lets bystanders know this three-row muscle car is something special and distinctly Dodge.

Enough already. It's Time for European-style Regulation in North America

If the manufacturers are going to make this stuff and people are going buy it, then maybe it's time that there was some regulation that would protect everyone else. Of course, there are vehicles with speed limiters in the USA: e-scooters and e-bikes are tightly regulated, shutting off the motors at speeds between 15 mph and 20 mph, depending on the state or municipality. Nobody seems to have much of an issue with them being regulated. So why not cars? In much of Europe, "Intelligent Speed Assistance," or governors, along with new "black box" technology will be standard equipment in 2022.

intelligent speed Assistance
Public Domain. European Transport Safety Council

Imagine sitting on top of 710 horsepower in your Dodge Hellcat and having your car on a wide, empty American road going the speed limit. Imagine this new black box that broadcasts your driving habits; as one British critic noted, "In fact, it's this 'spy on board' which may ultimately have a bigger impact on driver behavior than any kind of speed limiter. It's easy to get away with reckless driving when there's only a handful of traffic cops around to stop you. Much harder when there's a spy in the cab recording your every move."

hellcat track closeup
closeup of Hellcat on Track. FCA

There is no freedom of the open road in the USA; there is just really lax enforcement of existing laws. The fact that vehicles like this exist means that we need a lot more enforcement and a lot more speed cameras around those soccer fields for all those moms in their Hellcats.

Then we need to start talking about making SUVs and pickups as safe as cars or getting them off the road and possibly even just banning SUVs.