Time to give SUVs the boot?

They’re responsible for pollution, congestion and are a massive contributor to climate change. So how can you persuade friends or family to give up their SUV for something more planet-friendly? TTL has created a leaflet with some facts to help. 

Sales of sports utility vehicles (SUVs) are increasing at a rapid rate despite the financial squeeze on households and the pressing need to reduce our consumption of resources to deal with climate change and environmental destruction.

You may know someone who has one or is thinking of getting an SUV. Peer influence is one of the most powerful ways to encourage behavioural change. So as a friend or family member, you might be able to engage them in a conversation about how damaging such vehicles are.

To help you out, we’ve produced this article plus a small factsheet, which you are welcome to print off and use to help you talk to people. Good luck! Click here or on image below.


Why are SUVs such bad news?

Much of this is common sense: the sheer size and weight of SUVs means they burn more petrol or diesel, and so produce more carbon emissions compared to standard cars. The production of bigger cars also uses more energy. Here are some of the most sobering facts to know:


1. Leading cause of carbon emission
A report from the International Energy Agency identifies SUVs as the second biggest cause of the increase in total carbon emissions worldwide from 2010 to 2021. In fact, SUVs’ contribution to emissions has increased over four times more than the combined contributions from both shipping and flights (1). As a result, the recent shift towards heavier cars has cancelled out the worldwide carbon savings from improved car engine efficiency and electric cars.

The IEA consider SUVs consume around 20% more energy than a medium-sized car and Which? tests, which are more stringent than the official tests, found they are almost a third (30%) less fuel-efficient on average than the traditional large car.

But here’s a really scary fact: If SUVs were an individual country, they would have ranked sixth in the world for absolute emissions in 2021 – almost as much as all Japan.


2. Less safe for drives and more deadly for others
Many people buy SUVs to feel safer, but studies into their safety have had mixed conclusions. One indicated that drivers of SUVs were 11% more likely to die in an accident than people in standard cars (2). Another US study showed that they can lull drivers into a false sense of security, encouraging them to take greater risks. Their height also makes them twice as likely to roll in crashes.

But the dangers are mainly to other road users. Which? magazine has done studies showing SUV handing at higher speeds isn’t on a par with a traditional hatchback.  This is due to a higher centre of gravity combined with softer suspension. Their larger mass also increases their momentum, which results in a larger braking distance and more damage to others in collisions. Although SUV drivers may feel they have a better view of the road, their higher front-end profile reduces visibility and makes them at least twice as likely to kill pedestrians they hit(3).


3. Exacerbating congestion in our towns
You’ve all probably experienced the traffic jams in Lewes when SUVs meet buses and try to squeeze past parked cars. SUVs are not only wider than standard cars, causing unnecessary hold-ups in our town centres, but they are also longer. Their width and length often cause difficulties in our car parks with smaller space markings, making it tricky to open doors and negotiate already tight parking bays.

In its report Upselling Smoke, the New Weather Institute reported that in 2019, UK consumers purchased 150,000 SUVs that were too large to fit in a standard British parking space. Which not only reduces car park capacity but leads to cars having to drive around more, trying to find a space they can fit.


4. Massive contributor to air pollution
Inevitably more emissions mean more other air-polluting particulates aside from carbon, which lodge harmfully in the lungs and can even lead to brain damage – the last thing people living and working in a crowded and congested town like Lewes need. An electric SUV partly solves the problem – but doesn’t address these oversized vehicles’ contribution to congestion, fatalities and the greater energy it takes to build them in the first place.


5. Part of a big greenwash
Manufacturers tell us a new SUV is more climate-friendly than an old car. But ALL new cars are more energy efficient. A new, small electric car would be a far more responsible choice than any SUV – but of course it wouldn’t make the manufacturers nearly as much profit. These heavy, high-carbon emitters are being aggressively marketed, with millions more being spent on SUV marketing than other car advertising.

Given that the average vehicle is driven less than 20 miles a day, and few SUVs are actually driven off road, is it not ludicrous to spend that amount of money, endanger the lives of others and cause extra emissions, harming everyone’s future?


What you can do if you have an SUV


1 International Energy Agency https://www.iea.org/commentaries/global-suv-sales-set-another-record-in-2021-setting-back-efforts-to-reduce-emissions
2 The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration 2004
3 Lawrence, Eric D.; Bomey, Nathan; Tanner, Kristi (1 July 2018)

1 Comment

  1. Joyce Bell

    The wrong-headedness of SUVs has been apparent for decades. I don’t know why successive governments have not discouraged them through taxation, and education about the environmental damage they cause and their negative safety record.


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