Driving a 4x4 in town is just plain daft. Sure, some 4x4s may have a use in the countryside but most bought by the British public are never used off road. Should we allow people to waste their money on these cars?

Driving a 4x4 in town is just plain daft. Sure, some 4x4s may have a use in the countryside but most bought by the British public are never used off road. Should we allow people to waste their money on these cars?

Well, no. This trend towards huge, inefficient cars is killing pedestrians and endangering the planet, and that's why people are signing up in droves to the Alliance Against Urban 4x4s.

More and more of us realise we can't afford to watch and do nothing as monsters such as the intimidating Ford Excursion and the dreaded Hummer take over towns.

We want sensible measures adopted to discourage people from buying these silly cars. Road-tax bands, already based on carbon dioxide emissions, should be increased to the level of the most flatulent 4x4s. We also want a higher congestion charge for the biggest models in London and a ban on mainstream advertising.

Sales of 4x4s grew by 13 per cent in 2004, yet only one in 20 is taken off road, so people clearly aren't buying them because they need them, but falling for myths and advertising.

Off-roaders are very good at what they are designed for: crossing rough terrain and getting traction in snow or mud. However, the features that make them good off road make them a liability in town and a very poor choice of family car.

Fuel economy plunges when an engine has to lug around the extra bodywork, suspension and transmission equipment needed for off-roading. A Range Rover Vogue, one of the most popular 4x4s for urbanites, does just 12mpg in town and costs the unfortunate owner £100 a month more in petrol than the average family saloon.

Climate change is well known to be our greatest threat, so for people with children to be buying less efficient cars seems like a poor case of denial. Their children will have to pay for the effects of climate change tomorrow.

Many parents choose 4x4s in the belief that their tall, boxy design is some kind of magic formula for passenger protection. However, Euro-NCAP crash tests do not back this up. Of the top 10 cars tested since 1998, none is a 4x4 and only three make it into the top 20. Crash test scores show 4x4s beating family cars by barely one point out of a possible 36.

The high bumpers and crude bonnets of most 4x4s spell danger for other road users, particularly pedestrians. In Euro-NCAP tests for pedestrian safety, big off-roaders score an average of just four out of 36, compared with 10 and 13 for large and small family cars.

Their high centre of gravity also leads to poor handling and sluggish cornering on narrow streets. The "command" driving position makes it hard to see things close to the car, particularly at the rear, making 4x4s risky for cyclists and pedestrians.

Figures from insurance companies suggest that urban 4x4s are involved in 25 per cent more accidents than ordinary cars.

A national YouGov poll in August 2004 showed that two-thirds of people supported higher taxes for urban 4x4s. Thousands have already signed our petition and written to Ken Livingstone and the Transport Secretary, Alistair Darling, supporting our proposals. To those whose frustration threatens to get the better of them, we provide spoof (non-adhesive) parking tickets that send a peaceful and humorous message to the drivers of 4x4s, and include some of the real facts about their status symbols.

Our slogan, "not safe, not clean, not cool" says it all and politicians must begin to listen. Discouraging people from using 4x4s in urban areas will help meet both environmental and road safety targets. No one is suggesting an outright ban, just gentle discouragement.

For more info see www.stopurban4x4s.org.uk

The writer is a founder and spokesperson for the Alliance Against Urban 4x4s

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