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September 28, 2023

Editorial: Tackling autobesity

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SUVs have become very popular, even in cities, because of their view-blocking profile.

About ten years ago, the four-wheel drive car, useful in rural areas with poor roads, began to lose ground to the larger sports utility vehicle (SUV). 

The SUV has since become very popular, even in cities, and because of its view-blocking profile, some people buy them in self-defence, just as you have to stand up at a concert when everyone else does.

The standard SUV is irritating if you drive a conventionally shaped car, ride a bicycle or venture on to the street as a pedestrian. Its bulk obscures the traffic conditions from other road users, its engine generally emits more pollution than smaller vehicles, and in accidents it is more deadly.

Careless drivers can be deceived by the elevated seat: the higher the driver position, the slower your speed seems to be. There are more blind spots on SUVs than on lower cars, and they roll over more easily.

Nevertheless, SUVs have long been accepted as intrinsic elements of our traffic ecology. They are useful for large families, handily survive collisions with smaller vehicles, and give their owners the illusion that they will one day drive across the Simpson Desert.

Are you invading Iraq?

However, there is now a trend towards super SUVs, monster vehicles that have no justification whatsoever, unless you are invading Iraq. These machines consume vast amounts of energy and their appearance at a time when fossil fuel companies are hell-bent on increasing their output, heedless of the climate crisis, is probably not a coincidence.

Is the market responding to a genuine need for these behemoths, or are consumers being mesmerised into wanting them by clever marketing? Whatever the case, the benefit from super-sized SUVs, which mostly consists of increased self-confidence in the penile inadequate, is tiny compared to the harm they cause.

The greater weight of these vehicles inflicts massive damage on anything they collide with. Whereas modern saloons have been designed to minimise injury to pedestrians, even when they are struck by the front of the bonnet, the sheer cliff-face front of these monster SUVs ensures instant fatality, except at extremely low speeds.

Our roads are designed to carry a much higher number of light cars than heavy trucks. When ordinary cars turn into trucks, the roads become chaotic, harder to drive on and harder to maintain.

Difficult to reverse out of a parking spot

It is already difficult to reverse out of a parking spot between two SUVs; if they are monster SUVs extending into the street the manoeuvre becomes dangerous. But the space between two such vehicles is not wide enough to hold a car anyway. The brutes sprawl over normally marked spaces and jut into the lanes of parking lots. 

Not everyone is giving up without a fight. The City of Paris has decreed that from next year SUVs will be charged more for parking than ordinary cars. Another French city, Lyon, has followed suit.

I fear we are not as smart as the French. Do not be surprised if the next trend in autobesity coming from the USA is people buying tanks. A mammoth machine equipped with a big gun, just what monster SUV owners dream of.

David Lovejoy, Echo co-founder

News tips are welcome: [email protected]

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  1. It’s a fact that heavier cars and remember electric cars are heavy too, are both responsible for significantly more damage to road surfaces and much greater pollution from tyre wear micro particles that are known to be toxic and contain a high proportion of plastics. The wear rates on roads are not increased by just a few extra percent, there is a formula that derives from trucks where the extra weight ( and we are getting cars to 3 tonnes now) increases wear by many factors as weight increases. I would expect wear rates on tyres to significantly increase too and tyre sizes are increasing with a bigger wear footprint and contact patch on the road to cause the wear. Even radiator grills are now super sized and for no other reason than it appeals aesthetically to buyers as the air cooling requirements on combustion engines remains the same, while many electric cars also sport fake oversize radiator grills. I suggest a taxation tier system that makes the big guys pay more for their road damage and tyre particle pollution. In the UK where roads are mostly narrower in older towns, there are real issues with two cars passing in opposite direction where there is on street parking and sometimes also where there is no on street parking. In car parks there is a need for the bays to be upsized from what was adequate for 20th Century vehicles, just compare the size of a 1960’s mini to a 2nd generation 2023 mini or do the same with a 1960’s 500 Fiat and the latest offering

  2. Just ban SUV’s and Big Box Urban Tanks from urban streets. Makes the place safer for cyclists and pedestrians and better for the environment.

  3. There are even more big vehicles coming onto the market as part of this stupid and wasteful trend.
    The aggressively named ‘Grenadier’, and GWM’s ‘Tank’ are but two more recent examples that I can think of.
    But apparently Ford’s big ‘Ranger’ 4WD dual cab is winning the current sales war in the peri-suburban wannabee 4WD market stakes.
    Pity about any smaller vehicles in an accident, even with 8 air-bags.
    Of course, it’s potential death/serious injury to any 2-wheelers they hit.
    Perhaps the owners of such Behemoths need to have a valid special reason to buy one, plus compelled to do extra driving testing combined with heavier taxation?
    Some hope…


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