Sydney Morning Herald - Friday 18 February 2005
Spike - 4WDs
Spike is feeling like Luke Skywalker must have felt the first time he tested his light sabre - an instruction manual would have been nice.
On Wednesday, 10 days after we began our campaign against oversized 4WDs and 2WDs on our city's streets, North Sydney Council announced a move to raise parking fees for larger cars.
Clearly a Spike campaign can achieve just about anything. So which injustice should we rally against next? Three ideas:
A campaign to remove vexatious sandbars from Sydney beaches. (As well as rips, undertows and the sand that gets in your cossies.) A campaign to find Rod Stewart a girlfriend his own age. Or a campaign forcing road workers, tradespeople and mechanics to launder their clothes regularly. Some of their uniforms are very soiled.
There are too many worthy targets, so send your suggestions as to what we should tackle next. Then, after a few practice runs, we'll aim both barrels at the world's six seemingly insuperable evils: war, natural disaster, starvation, pestilence, jock itch and Mark Holden.
In our campaign against oversized 4WDs and 2WDs in the city, we've discussed the environment, safety and physics. So far, though, we have omitted one crucial detail: The Simpsons.
In an episode entitled Screaming Yellow Honkers, Homer buys a giant all-terrain beast called a Canyonero. Over the closing credits, the Canyonero jingle - sung by Hank Williams Jr - goes:Can you name the truck with four-wheel drive/Smells like a steak, and seats thirty-five?
Well, it goes real slow with the hammer down/It's the country-fried truck endorsed by a clown.
Twelve yards long, two lanes wide/Sixty-five tons of American pride.
Top of the line in utility sports/Unexplained fires are a matter for the courts.
She blinds everybody with her super high-beams/She's a squirrel-squashin', deer-smackin' drivin' machine.
Whoa, Canyonero! Whoa!
On the right road
After campaigning for a week-and-a-half against oversized cars, Spike was delighted to hear yesterday's news that 4WD owners in North Sydney will have their parking fees doubled. (Even if we are far too modest to accept credit for the commendable initiative.)
However, readers such as Aaron Wilson might be upset. In response to our jibes about the Ford Territory, Wilson wrote: "I love reading Spike daily, but don't bag the greatest car ever produced and engineered in Australia." OK, we'll stop calling it the Ford Terrorise.
Greg Kean summed up the sentiment of several readers thus: "At the moment all the 4WD debate is doing is encouraging road rage." And Richard White added: "There's too much emotion in this 4WD debate and not enough facts being aired."
Wal, a 4WD owner who lamented the dangerous driving of tradesmen in utes and tailgating truckers, said: "I am disappointed you choose to have a vendetta against one small portion of motorists when seeking realistic suggestions to curb aggression and reckless driving may be a better way to save some of our lives. Maybe a competition with a Lleyton Hewitt cap to wear backwards for the winner." Nice idea.
Michael Rowe wrote: "Rather than 'beastly incarnations of selfishness', the 4WD is the only real vehicle you can use to see our magnificent outback. My wife and I have travelled 60,000 kilometres in the last four years in outback Australia, and you won't see anything like it anywhere else."
In support of our campaign to reduce the number of oversized and dangerous 4WDs (and 2WDs) on our city streets, many readers have made useful, intelligent and carefully argued suggestions.
Here are some of the others.
James Hyde suggests "that all owners of 4WDs in urban areas must mount a clear, A2-sized colour photo of themselves on the boot, with the words 'How's my driving? Call [local police station]"'.
Other suggestions include imposing an environmental degradation levy on gas guzzlers, putting a barcode on petrol caps that adjusts the price of petrol according to the "weight and stupidity" of the vehicle, and Mike Trebert's proposal for an extra Medicare surcharge on 4WD owners to treat injuries arising from bullbars, higher pollution and "egregious aesthetic trauma".
"Keep up the good work on bagging 4WDs," was another response. "As a housewife living in the Mosman area, I have first-hand experience of their dangers. The only reason these vehicles are on the road is because the husband knows his wife can't drive, knows it is only a matter of time before she hits someone and he wants to make sure that she doesn't come off second best."
The trembling reader concludes: "Please note, I need to remain anonymous in case they come after me."
Bill Rayner - after noting that a 2.6-tonne 4WD travelling at the speed limit has the same momentum as a 1.3-tonne sedan travelling twice as fast - had a question: "If a LandCruiser doing 70 kmh in a 60 zone can do the same damage as a mid-sized car going 140, why isn't [the driver] thrown in jail for it?"
John Solvyns, of Tamworth, suggests a name change. "I reckon those monster trucks should be more aptly named SAVs, for suburban assault vehicles."
Tomorrow, a selection of pro-4WD responses.
Tanks for everything
Since starting our campaign against oversized 4WDs and 2WDs last week, we've received so many emails we're almost bogged.
More than 80 per cent of emailers supported our effort to reduce the number of destructive, dangerous behemoths polluting our city's streets. To this end, readers made various sensible suggestions: legislating that drivers of such vehicles obtain special drivers' licences and training - for their own, and everyone else's, safety; raising federal tariffs so that imported 4WDs are taxed at the same level as imported 2WDs - currently 4WDs are taxed at 5 per cent, while 2WDs cop a 10 per cent slug; electronically speed limiting them to, say, 100kmh; outlawing dangerous backyard modifications; and doubling these cars' registration costs. "Tax 'em high," exhorted Frank Hicks, who also wants a ban on bullbars.
Mary Anne Hingerty wrote: "I have started referring to these things as 'SUVs', but this seems a misnomer as the words are: Sports ... the only 'sports' connection is driving one or two kids to soccer; Utility ... any tiny amount is surely vastly outweighed by damage to safety, amenity, environment, fossil fuels, etc; Vehicles ... perhaps 'trucks'?"
Jennifer Dewar's perspective: "Having lived for 24 years on a 24,000-acre property north-west of Moree without a 4WD and in Sydney the last three years surrounded by a plethora of them, bring on the ban! I'm now surrounded by the behemoths which the owners can't drive nor park."
Peter Lawson, an irate Leichhardt reader, has taken to printing out anti-4WD leaflets and leaving them under windscreen wipers. These leaflets warn that: "Oil is running out, but no one wants to talk about it."
Tomorrow, we print several more light-hearted responses.
Thus far in our discussion of oversized 4WDs and 2WDs (Spike, Monday) we haven't once mentioned "environment". However, in the US the ecological threat posed by the epidemic of these gargantuan, gas-guzzling beasts has particularly angered two San Franciscans, Robert Lind and Charles Dines. Since the late 1990s they have have been stalking SUVs and surreptitiously attaching stickers saying: "I'm changing the climate! Ask me how!"
The removable stickers point to www.changingtheclimate.com. It says: "We are using ridicule and social embarrassment to change the habits of the American consumer. In the old days, society had a pillory to shame people out of antisocial behaviour. Today we have the mighty bumper sticker. The idea of this website is to stigmatise the insanity of ... American consumerism and vapid status acquisition ... Most people don't need the automotive version of the Exxon Valdez to run their daily errands."
Other anti-SUV activists highlight the dangers of big cars by affixing more aggressive stickers, such as "I'm twice as likely to kill you" and "I win if we crash".
We'll wrap up the topic next week with a summary of readers' emails. The printable ones.
Sydney or the bush
"I can no longer remain one of the silent majority in relation to the ill-informed persecution of 4WD owners," writes Tim.
Sorry, Tim, but it seems the overwhelming majority of Spike readers support the anti-4WD campaign we started on Monday.
As of yesterday afternoon, 83 per cent of emails were against these beastly incarnations of selfishness, with only 17 per cent in favour. And to clarify: it's to reduce the number of oversized cars - 4WD and 2WD - on Sydney's streets. Cars such as the Toyota LandCruiser, Nissan Patrol, Porsche Cayenne and so on.
They are dangerous: more prone to roll over than, say, sedans or hatchbacks; and, in a crash with smaller vehicles, they are more deadly. Here's a stat from the Australian Transport Safety Bureau: between 1996 and 1998, 36 young children died in low-speed driveway accidents; more than half of those killed by passenger vehicles were killed by large 4WDs.
Reader Dave Bredeson sent the egg and brick image on the left: "This is what I visualise when I'm out on the road with those big, bad vehicles of mass destruction."
And reader Joe Hubbard had a sensible suggestion: "Clearly the 4WD has no function in cities, towns and suburbs and the constant use of these vehicles in these areas must raise suspicion. Our duty is to report every sighting of a 4WD in a city to ASIO as a terrorist suspect, a possible bomb-carrying vehicle or even carriers of dreaded illegal immigrants or refugees. Be alert not afraid. These drivers belong in Baxter detention centre until their motives are clarified."
Thing of the road
Our campaign against 4WDs in the city (Spike, Monday) has gained more momentum than a LandCruiser on a freeway. In response, we've received a flood of emails supporting our anti-4WD sentiments - and a trickle of counter-arguments. We'll print a selection in coming days. Meanwhile, USA Today reports an ad campaign was launched in the US last week warning drivers about the dangers of big 4WDs - or, in American-speak, SUVs (sport utility vehicles). The ad shows a man learning to ride a big, hairy "Esuvee" beast (pictured), which is disturbingly prone to roll over. "Esuvees are big and powerful," the ad says. "On top of one you can feel almost invincible."
The $US27 million campaign is funded by money extracted from Ford after a lawsuit claiming the carmaker's ads were deceptive. In December 2002 Ford was sued by all 50 state attorneys-general for depicting its SUVs as safe; ultimately, a $US51.5 million settlement was reached. Using these funds, the campaign - see www.esuvee.com - promotes slow driving, inflating tyres correctly and avoiding overloading. It targets young males, after studies showed nearly half of US male teen SUV drivers in fatal crashes in 2003 rolled their cars.
Hate those 4WDs
In response to our call for suggestions as to how Sydney can eradicate the scourge of the oversized 4WD (Spike, yesterday), we were inundated with emails. Some were too puerile to print - such as the suggestion that stickers be affixed to such vehicles stating that an inverse proportion exists between the size of a car and the size of its driver's manhood. (Assuming the driver is a man.) Among the more serious suggestions: 4WDs should be taxed more highly - imported 4WDs currently attract only a 5 per cent tariff, compared to a 10 per cent tariff for imported passenger cars; a ban on 4WDs coming within 100 metres of any school; and that 4WDs should require special training and separate driver's licences.
John Smith writes: "Let's pass a law that to purchase a 4WD one must be (a) over 80 years of age and (b) Have both parents' written consent." By the way, Smith was not one of the contributors who made a big car/small appendage quip. He, like us, prefers to stay away from such lewd sniping.
Love those 4WDs
Our call to arms also upset a few readers. And by a few, we mean two. Shaun Leighton was one. "Concerning your ill-informed populist drivel concerning 4WD vehicles, I live on the lower North Shore of Sydney and drive a Nissan Patrol," Dr Leighton admitted. "I resisted the urge (and expense) of a 4WD till I could no longer afford to. Every passenger car I ever owned would loose either its exhaust system, shred tires, bend cross-members, break axles ... I get really tired of people (childless know-it-alls usually) who have never been west of City Road constantly berating 4WD owners. If they ever decide to holiday on Cape York - as I have done several times - rather than Aspen they will sudden realise why people gladly tolerate the vehicle's other shortcomings." Speaking of shortcomings ... once again, we choose to refrain from juvenile anatomical jokes. Keep the emails coming.
Tanks, but no tanks
Last week - for the first time - an off-road vehicle was named Wheels Car of the Year, claiming the highest award in the Aussie auto industry. That car is the Ford Terrorise - sorry, Territory - and last year this beast - sorry, car - sold 13,500 units. Intriguingly, only half were 4WDs; the other half were 2WDs that intimidate like 4WDs. In Spike's opinion, only three valid reasons exist to buy an oversized 4WD (or 2WD masquerading like a 4WD):
* You live in the country. (Killara doesn't count.) You live in the city but travel often to the country.
* You overcompensate for a rampant inferiority complex by surrounding yourself with two tonnes of metal.
Actually, scratch that last one. "There is a place for these cars," says Harold Scruby, of the Pedestrian Council of Australia. "But that's not Mosman or Toorak. Actually, the highest per capita ownership of 4WDs in Australia is in Mosman. These cars can be very dangerous."
One in five new cars sold in Australia is a 4WD; Spike's suspicion is that most of these cars are more likely to be taken dancing than off-road. So Spike has a dream: by the end of the year we aim to reduce that figure to one in 10. Please email in suggestions as to how. And rest assured we'll make every effort to be balanced and fair about these lamentable, deadly manifestations of selfishness and stupidity.
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