'A deadly problem': should we ban SUVs from our cities?

(The Guardian, 7 Oct 2019) Statistically less safe than regular cars and with higher CO2 emissions, campaigners argue the heavily-marketed cars have no place in urban areas.

“SUV insanity” shouted the front page of German business newspaper Handelsblatt earlier this month, showcasing a weekend special questioning the aggressive marketing by carmakers of highly profitable 4x4 vehicles.

That evening, at a busy Berlin intersection, the driver of a Porsche Macan SUV lost control of his vehicle and mounted the pavement, killing four people: a three-year-old boy and his 64-year-old grandmother, and two men in their 20s.

The city erupted. “It was no longer a theoretical danger; people were being killed,” says Benjamin Stephan, a transport and climate change campaigner at Greenpeace. “There was a public outcry. It didn’t come from nowhere, people are upset about these cars.”

The following day hundreds of Berliners gathered at a vigil for those killed, calling for a ban on SUVs. Stephan von Dassel, the district mayor of Berlin-Mitte, said “armour-like SUVs” don’t belong in cities. Oliver Krischer, a deputy leader of the Green party in the German parliament, called for size restrictions on 4x4s allowed into urban centres. “The best solution would be a nationwide rule that allowed local authorities to set size limits,” he told Der Tagesspiegel.

SUVs are a paradox: while many people buy them to feel safer, they are statistically less safe than regular cars, both for those inside and those outside the vehicle. A person is 11% more likely to die in a crash inside an SUV than a regular saloon. Studies show they lull drivers into a false sense of security, encouraging them to take greater risks. Their height makes them twice as likely to roll in crashes and twice as likely to kill pedestrians by inflicting greater upper body and head injuries, as opposed to lower limb injuries people have a greater chance of surviving. Originally modelled from trucks, they are often exempt from the kinds of safety standards applied to passenger vehicles, including bonnet height. In Europe legislation is being brought in to end such “outdated and unjustified” exemptions.

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The Guardian, 7 Oct 2019: 'A deadly problem': should we ban SUVs from our cities?