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Balmoral behemoths flooding the suburbs

The Sun-Herald

Sunday 22 August 2001
By HEATH GILMORE - URBAN AFFAIRS REPORTER

FOR once, the urban myth is true. The lower north shore is the natural habitat for Sydney's growing fleet of four-wheel-drive vehicles.

The latest Roads and Traffic Authority statistics show that one in 10 passenger vehicles in suburbs such as Mosman, Balmoral, Northbridge and Hunters Hill is an off-road passenger vehicle.

Whether Military Road is the roughest terrain these mechanical behemoths have ever tackled remains unknown. Similar figures exist for the northern beaches, eastern suburbs, northern suburbs, inner west and the Hills district.

For the first time the RTA has released off-road-vehicle registration figures by postcode areas. Lakemba, in Sydney's south-west, is the lowest ranked suburb with four-wheel drives making up just 2.91 per cent of passenger vehicles. Most other postcode areas were above 4pc.

The impact on the roads of the greater numbers of four-wheel-drive vehicles is unknown. The NSW Staysafe Committee has asked for research into the phenomenon to be carried out.

But Pedestrian Council chairman Harold Scruby believes four-wheel drives are more dangerous than other vehicles.

"Unfortunately a certain percentage of the population needs to feel safer by encasing themselves in a battering ram," he said. "They want to feel dominant by lording it high above the rest of us?'

Mr Scruby said that the vehicles were prone to flipping, took longer to stop under braking and were generally harder to handle for inexperienced drivers.

"I don't think anyone under the age of 25 should be allowed to drive the large Land Cruisers, for example" he said.. "We are talking about small trucks?"

Dr Ann Williamson, executive director of the NSW Injury Risk Management Research Centre, said the percentage of NSW crashes involving four-wheel drives was quite small, corresponding to less than 4pc of crashes in 2000.