Media Release

Tuesday 23 August 2005

Four-wheel-drive (4WD) backlash: the great divide


Most Australians (69 per cent) believe there is a backlash against the number of four-wheel-drives on our roads, according to new research by leading car and home insurer AAMI.


“Without doubt, four-wheel-drive owners have an image problem, whether they deserve it or not,” said Geoff Hughes, AAMI Public Affairs Manager.


“Both four-wheel-drivers and people who drive other cars agree there is a backlash against the influx of four-wheel-drives on our roads. However, more four-wheel-drivers (77 per cent) than non-four-wheel-drivers (68 per cent) believe this to be so,” he said.


The findings are based on in-depth analysis of a survey of almost 2400 Australians conducted by Sweeney Research.


Divided on ‘danger’

Most Australians (66 per cent) believe that although four-wheel-drives may be safer for their occupants, they are more dangerous for other road users.


“Four-wheel-drivers are less likely to agree that their vehicles pose a danger to other road users: half as many four-wheel-drivers as non-four-wheel drivers believe these vehicles are dangerous (37 per cent compared to 69 per cent),” Mr Hughes said.


In four-wheel-drive crashes involving multiple vehicles, occupants of regular cars accounted for a significantly higher proportion of fatalities than four-wheel drive occupants: 64 per cent versus18 per cent (source: Australian Transport Safety Bureau).


Size matters

Four in ten Australians (45 per cent) were more concerned about having a crash with a four-wheel-drive than with a sedan or small car.


“A significant proportion of Australian drivers are concerned about colliding with a four-wheel-drive. Four-wheel-drive owners seem to feel safer — only one in five (20 per cent) four-wheel-drivers were concerned about having an accident with a vehicle of their size,” Mr Hughes said.

Generally, four-wheel-drives reduce risk of injury for their occupants but increase risks for other road users (source: Monash University Accident Research Centre).


Australians who live in metropolitan areas were more likely to agree that SUV/four-wheel-drive vehicles were more dangerous for other road users (70 per cent compared to 58 per cent in regional areas).


More than half of Australians (59 per cent) believe people in cities should be driving smaller cars, not larger ones.


“Congestion on our roads – particularly in metropolitan areas – is an issue for many drivers. More than half of non-four-wheel-drivers (61 per cent) believe more people should be driving smaller cars but only one-third (32 per cent) of four-wheel-drivers agree,” Mr Hughes said.

More than half (58 per cent) of Australians say they have seen SUV/four-wheel-drivers struggling to manoeuvre their vehicles in busy urban areas.


“Again, the driving population is divided on this issue – only one third (35 per cent) of four-wheel-drivers admit to having seen this versus a larger proportion (60 per cent) of non-four-wheel-drivers”.


“Sixteen per cent of SUV/four-wheel-drivers themselves admitted to sometimes having difficulty manoeuvring their vehicle in busy, urban areas,” Mr Hughes said.


According to AAMI claims data, four-wheel-drivers are twice as likely to reverse into another vehicle, which suggests that visibility is an issue for four-wheel-drives.


Perceived downside

The population is almost equally divided about whether or not four-wheel-drive vehicles have drawbacks: just over half of Australians (53 per cent) believe there is a downside to four-wheel-drives.


“However, four-wheel-drivers and non-four-wheel-drivers are more divided — only 37 per cent of four-wheel-drivers agree that there is a ‘downside’ to their vehicles, yet many more (71 per cent) non-four-wheel-drivers agreed,” Mr Hughes said.


What four-wheel-drivers say

Since purchasing an SUV/four-wheel-drive, one in five owners (18 per cent) say they have noticed they receive more negative attitudes from other drivers.


“Interestingly, women are more likely than men to have experienced negative feedback from other drivers since purchasing their SUV/four-wheel-drive (26 per cent versus 12 per cent). It was most common among women aged 18-34 (36 per cent)”, Mr Hughes said.


“Regardless of the backlash towards SUV/four-wheel-drives, sales of these vehicles remain strong – it seems that as more people on the road have these vehicles, more people want them”.


Automotive industry retail data shows that sales of SUV vehicles remain strong: they account for approximately 18 per cent of all motor vehicle sales year to date (source: Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries). 


However, recent reports show an increase in popularity of small cars: demand rose 26 per cent in July 2005, while sales of SUVs fell 5 per cent (source: Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries). 


According to AAMI’s research, the main reasons that owners of SUV/four-wheel-drive vehicles cited for choosing these vehicles were: more room/comfort, higher seating and simply because they liked them.



Media interviews: Geoff Hughes, AAMI Public Affairs Manager, ph (03) 8520 1469 or 0413 483 591.