The inconvenient truth about SUVs


Blimey! Wonders will never cease! The Daily Telegraph – of all places – has set aside their normal knee jerk reaction against anything that smacks of forbidding people to drive as much and wherever they want.

At least, they have done just long enough to include an article condemning sports utility  vehicles, the ubiquitous SUVs:

SUVs, which range in size from large to gargantuan,” wrote the author, Ed Wiseman, “consume more fuel than their smaller counterparts, produce more emissions across the board, and are more likely to kill or injure ­vulnerable road users than ­conventional ­equivalents. What’s more, they’re ­generally more expensive to buy and run.”

I wasn’t the only one to be a little taken aback. One of the below-the-line comments says: “Have I just logged onto the Guardian website by mistake?”

Since writing a report for the Badvertising campaign in 2020 about the history of motor advertising, I can’t think of any issue that gets me quite so over-excited (full disclosure: I’m still involved in the campaign). Certainly, watching those massive cars from the position of the poor benighted pedestrians staring up at them, or simply swamping the narrow car parking spaces.

Unfortunately, some of the other below-the-line comments betray a frightening bias against any sane measures on the roads. “Eco-bullying could in no way influence our car-buying decisions,” says one. “The bigger the better.”

Another response goes further: “Christ, I pity the bitter treehugger who wrote this garbage.”

I am clearly writing this as a bitter tree-hugger…

Most of the comments betray a wilful misunderstanding of what the article was saying.

Of course they were designed for the countryside and for mud slides or snow drifts. But the fact is that the local authority with the most SUVs on the roads isn’t in a rural backwater – it’s Kensington and Chelsea…

Of course they give an illusion of safety – that is why so many cyclists are killed by them. By lulling drivers into feeling safer.

But in fact, evidence from the USA suggests that, because their centre of gravity is higher, more SUVs roll over than other estate cars.

These figures from a decade and a half ago suggest that SUVs were probably killing around an extra 3,000 people in the USA a year at that time – more than died at 9/11. Roughly a third of those died in SUV rollovers, and another third from being hit by one. The final third are killed by respiratory problems because of the extra pollution caused by SUVs.

If similar patterns hold in the UK, then we may face 500-700 extra deaths a year here. It is true that European SUVs are typically smaller and more aerodynamic than American ones, but there are some natural laws that apply everywhere. For example:

● 4×4 driving makes it safer when you are accelerating, but makes it no safer at all in poor driving conditions.

● SUVs are heavier and so they have longer stopping distances. Most people think they brake faster. They don’t.

And if you survive the rollovers, watch out for the air quality. Ford have now produced 7m Explorers, but – since the 2011 version – they have received over 2,700 complaints about carbon monoxide seeping into the car, including some from police patrols. The complaints include 80 injuries and 11 crashes after drivers lost consciousness.

In short, SUVs are no safer for their occupants, and by some measures may be a good deal more risky than other cars. So why have they been marketed as safer?

Of course, electric cars will have their own difficulties. They are liable to be as heavy – if not heavier – than petrol-driven SUVs.

But that is a problem for another day. In the meantime, I need help understanding why people are so selfish that they don’t see the damage their car choices can have on those around them.

Of course this doesn’t apply to people who need 4x4s because they need to go off road, or because they have a bad back and can’t stoop to get into a smaller car.

Nor did the pretty gentle Telegraph article suggest otherwise.

And what on earth do people have against the idea of 15-minute cities?

Is it that they fear they will lead to anyone without a bike being forced out? Or do they just distrust the language, afraid that the government will get involved and it will all end with a trendy repeat of the ‘Smart Motorway’ insanity?

I think we should be told…

Rate this post!

Average rating 5 / 5. Vote count: 2

No votes so far! Be the first to rate this post.

Radix is the radical centre think tank. We welcome all contributions which promote system change, challenge established notions and re-imagine our societies. The views expressed here are those of the individual contributor and not necessarily shared by Radix.

Leave a Reply

The Author
Latest Related Work
Follow Us