Sydney Morning Herald - Monday 10 July, 2006

4WD drivers really as bad we thought

By Ruth Pollard

FOUR-WHEEL-DRIVE owners, already seen as a road menace, are more dangerous
than we thought, a study of more than 40,000 vehicles has found.

A person behind the wheel of one is far more likely to be wielding a mobile
phone while driving, and less likely to wear a seatbelt, researchers say.
They have concluded that 4WD owners take more risks because they feel safer.

But that distorted logic is a threat to the safety of everyone on the road,
says Lesley Walker, a research associate with Imperial College London's
primary care and social medicine department.

Along with Australian researchers from the University of Queensland, Ms

observed the drivers of 38,182 cars and 2944 4WDs at three varied sites in

They found the 4WD drivers were almost four times more likely than car
drivers to be using a mobile phone, and 26 per cent more likely not to wear
a seatbelt.

Describing four-wheel-drives as "lethal weapons", Ms Walker said the
findings were relevant to Australian cities, where large 4WDs were common.
"There is no reason the risk-taking behaviour is not the same."

She said "breaking one law was significantly associated with increased
likelihood of breaking the other". Previous studies from the US, Britain and
Australia have shown that using a mobile phone while driving is associated
with a fourfold increase in the risk of having an accident.

That means drivers of four-wheel-drives are 16 times more likely to have an
accident than other drivers because they are four times more likely to use a
mobile while driving, she said.

"Although 4WD vehicles are safer in a crash, their owners may be placing
themselves and other road users at increased risk of injury," she said.
"They take the risk because they are higher up, they feel they can see
better ... but the person in a car or the pedestrian on the road has a much
worse outcome."

A member of the Bushrangers Four Wheel Drive Club in Victoria said 4WD
drivers were used to the criticism, "but it doesn't sound right to me at
all. I wear a seatbelt, I don't talk on my mobile while I'm driving."

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