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
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