The Age - Wednesday 28 March, 2007

Listen up, you selfish and ignorant people. Stop driving 4WDs

I WOULD like to sincerely apologise for the comments I made about four-wheel-drives in last week's column.

Due to a limitation on the number of words, I was unable to say everything I wanted about these dangerous and obnoxious monster trucks being driven by people selfish at best and ignorant at worst.

And not just shame on you for driving these anti-social, arrogant four-wheeled bullies. Shame on the car companies for appealing to your insecurity by sucking you in with slogans like "Give way not" (Jeep), "Get in or get out of the way" (Toyota HiLux) or the "class-kicking" HiLux 4WD utility with its "intimidating styling", "aggressive bonnet scoop" and "dominating moulded front bumpers". YEAH! What next? "Kill everyone and destroy the planet NOW WITH FREE AIR!" Suck up that free air, baby, because soon we'll be paying for it.

When I discovered that the word Pajero really is Spanish for wanker, I thought to myself: "It must be my birthday!"

And just so we are clear, bush folk, people towing horse floats and the like, you're off the hook. I'm talking about the people driving tanks to do the shopping and drop their kids off at school.

I can't be fagged unpacking the arrogance of the space they take up on the road, which is the equivalent of taking up eight seats at the cinema and wearing a refrigerator as a hat. And I'm not going to get into their environmental impact, as there must be at least one 4WD that is greener than the lowered Commodores with mags that fang down my street blowing blue smoke. But you'd have to be an idiot not to put together the basic larger-vehicle-equals-more-fuel-necessary-particularly-on-city-roads equation.

Need the space? Try a station wagon, roof racks or a little inconvenience. So your kids have long legs? Where are these kids with the two-metre legs? The only place I've ever seen them is in the Moomba parade and I thought they were actually normal-sized people on stilts.

So let's get this party started and crack open an icy-cold can of facts, shall we? Let's slip into something a little more uncomfortable with the 4WD safety myth.

Research conducted by the Monash University Accident Research Centre has concluded that 4WDs are almost twice as likely to roll than a car, resulting in their drivers being 3.4 times more likely to be killed due to crushed cabin space.

The centre has pointed out that 4WDs "are not subject to the full range of design rules applicable to passenger cars and their derivatives".

A team from Imperial College London and University of Queensland found, after a study of more than 40,000 vehicles, that "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". The researchers concluded that 4WD owners take more risks because they feel safer.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau found that half the 36 children killed in driveway deaths between 1996 and 1998 were struck by large 4WDs. They have also found: "The proportion of alcohol intoxication amongst 4WD drivers involved in fatal crashes (29 per cent) was higher than for all other types of vehicle." And: "In 4WD crashes involving multiple vehicles, passenger car occupants accounted for the largest proportion of fatalities (64 per cent). 4WD occupants accounted for 18 per cent."

Children are at risk because they are little and these vehicles are high. As far as proximity sensors are concerned, they do bugger all to protect children. According to NRMA Insurance's Robert McDonald: "They only work about a metre from the car, unless you are travelling extremely slowly. Your reaction time is not going to be quick enough to at least not knock someone over before even realising they are there."

In 2005, NSW's senior deputy state coroner, Jacqueline Milledge, recommended that 4WDs weighing two tonnes or more be banned from school grounds and within 200 metres of schools. She also recommended that the drivers be required to hold special licences after five-year-old Bethany Holder was run over by the driver of a Nissan Patrol with a bullbar.

Due to their weight and the bullbars being positioned at perfect head and chest height, drivers of vehicles hit side-on by 4WDs are 26 times more likely to be killed or suffer serious injury than if they had been hit by a standard-sized passenger vehicle, according to ABC's Catalyst program.

But apparently they're fashionable. If pick-up at your school is a procession of kids being collected from school in a car the size of a three-bedroom house, you may want to consider the values of that school.

Will it take a 4WD to back over the child of another 4WD owner for these status-obsessed fashion slaves to realise that these vehicles are potential killers?

Here's a cheaper alternative to buying a 4WD. Just buy a normal-sized car and put a sticker on the back that reads: "I DON'T GIVE A STUFF ABOUT YOU AND I VOTE."


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