4x4s should come with tobacco style health warnings, says think tank

The campaign against four wheel drive vehicles stepped up a gear this week, with think-tank the New Economics Foundation calling for tobacco style health warnings to be fitted, and London Mayor Ken Livingstone writing an open letter to Transport Minister Tony McNulty, urging greater duties to be imposed and pedestrian safety measures to be improved.

The New Economics Foundation proposal aims to change personal behaviour and help combat the health and environmental impacts of sports utility vehicles (SUVs), which, the think-tank claims, pose a significant threat to public health and the environment.

It is claimed they are disproportionately responsible for emissions of carbon dioxide and other air pollutants, and a far greater danger to pedestrians and other road users. The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has found that SUV drivers have a higher rate of death per kilometre travelled than drivers of normal cars.

“SUVs are dangerous, fabulously polluting and part of a wider transport problem that is, according to the World Health Organisation, set to be the world’s third most common cause of death and disability by 2020, ahead of TB, HIV and war,” said policy director of NEF, Andrew Simms. “We need labelling to encourage people not to drive these four-wheel behemoths in the same way we encourage people not to smoke. If we can’t, we may need to find a very large ashtray for our planet’s future.”

In the US, one in four cars sold is a SUV. In London, SUVs already account for one in seven of all new car sales and the percentage is rising. As a result, London Mayor Ken Livingstone wrote in his letter to the Transport Minister:

“Large SUVs can emit up to four times as much carbon dioxide as more environmentally friendly cars, as well as high levels of NOx and particulates. In road accidents, the damage inflicted by SUVs on pedestrians or other road users is more dramatic. Research in the US has suggested that 11.5 per cent of pedestrians hit by large SUVs are killed, compared to 4.5 per cent of pedestrians hit by smaller cars. Research shows that bull bars fitted on many SUVs increase the likeliness to injure pedestrians in collisions even further. As with other larger vehicles, SUVs can also block visibility of other traffic users and can be intimidating to vulnerable road users. SUVs also typically take up more road space and therefore, albeit slightly, contribute more to congestion than regular cars.”

He urged the Minister to significantly increase the Vehicle Excise Duty for large SUVs; to support the complete EU-wide ban on hard bull bars; to urge industry on a national and EU level to apply higher pedestrian safety ratings to new vehicles and to encourage more responsible marketing of large SUVs which are often aggressively marketed at urban users.

Both the Mayor’s and the think-tank’s moves were backed by Liberal Democrat Shadow Environment Secretary Norman Baker.

“Liberal Democrats have long campaigned for better information for purchasers on vehicles that pose a greater threat to human safety and to the environment. These gas guzzlers leave a bigger footprint on the environment than other vehicles and intimidate pedestrians, cyclists and other road users. The biggest challenge is to help people in urban communities realise that 4x4s are not a fashion accessory, but a real danger when used inappropriately,” he said.

By David Hopkins

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