Finally the SUV (sport utility vehicle)  epidemic which is killing pedestrians and responsible for an alarming uptake in automobile emissions is getting  national press attention.  I have been writing about the fact that SUVs are the second largest contributor to the global increase in CO2 emissions in the last ten years. The power industry is the biggest contributor. Other industries such as cement, iron and steel production and trucks and aviation lag behind the emissions produced by these vehicles.

The SUV is the automobile manufacturer’s cash cow, getting around the usual standard safety regulations required for cars because it is built on a truck platform. These SUVs are not built for city driving where they are now recognized as killing machines. Trucks and SUVs suck up 60 percent of all vehicular sales, and the SUV is solely responsible for a 46 percent increase in pedestrian deaths. A pedestrian is twice as likely to die being hit by the higher front end of an SUV.  Statistics show that drivers in these massive rolling living rooms are 11 percent more likely to die driving one.

Here’s the math: currently 25 percent of global oil is for vehicular consumption and related CO2 emissions. SUVs are responsible for an  emission increase by .55 Gt CO2 to 0.7 Gt CO2, as they require 25% more energy than the average mid-sized vehicle. Even with more “efficient” SUVs, this form of vehicle is the reason that there is a 3.3. million oil barrels a day of growth in the last eight years. That’s 3.3. million barrels a day of oil so that people can ferry themselves and family around in an overbuilt, oversized den-like vehicle.

The International Energy Agency has a big warning that the enchantment with SUV’s will undo the progressive shift to electric cars, by requiring an additional two million barrels a day of global oil by 2040, directly offsetting the carbon emission savings from nearly 150 million electric cars.

As Naomi Buck in the Globe and Mail states: Savvy marketing persuades buyers that SUVs are safe, comfortable and prestigious. And even if the ads show them carving through magnificent outdoor landscapes or parked next to glinting oceans, that’s not what these vehicles are really about. To quote Mercedes-Benz’s promotion of its latest G-class SUV: “More spacious. More special. Welcome to the great indoors.”

Ms. Buck points out: “Drivers of SUVs enter the traffic fray confident that if it comes to a confrontation, those in their vehicle are in a much better position than those in, say, a Honda Fit or a Mini Cooper…The 18-per-cent decline in emissions from cars since 1990 has been cancelled out, and then some, by the more than doubling in total emissions from pickup trucks, vans and SUVs.

Much depends on vehicle design, and not all SUVs are built equal. But the truly dark side of a high, blunt-faced vehicle is that, whereas a sedan will typically hit a pedestrian in their lower half and send them over the hood, large SUVs strike higher, at the level of a child’s head or an adult’s vital organs and are likelier to send the body under the vehicle.”

While Europe with its stronger policies for automobile emission abatement  has seen less of a trend towards SUVs, they still make up a third of all their  vehicular sales. The difference in Europe has been a stronger policy reaction to SUVs. The City of Lausanne Switzerland has petitioned their Council for a ban on SUVS within the city. Fees in France and other European countries tax drivers of high-emission vehicles, providing those funds back as rebates to drivers of  low-emission vehicles.

As Ms. Buck states ” The rates are progressive, meaning that every gram of carbon dioxide produced per kilometer counts toward determining the penalty or boon to the car owner. Since the system’s introduction, the average carbon output of France’s fleet has steadily dropped.”

I have  written about the Netherlands approach reducing daytime highway speeds across the country to lower auto emissions.  European law and policy requires that nitrogen oxide emissions be mitigated before new roads,housing and airports are constructed.  With a plan for 75,000 new housing units in the next year, the Dutch government is also considering a vehicular driving ban on Sundays.

London England has  implemented their Ultra Low Emission Zones which operate on a 24 hour basis . Fees are based upon the type of vehicle and emissions associated with the vehicle. London estimates that half of all pollution is from vehicles and aim to restrict and regulate. They also have an outright ban on large trucks which statistically kill pedestrians and cyclists in the inner city, and  are now charging SUV-like vehicles more for entering  downtown.

it is time to consider how to regulate the use of SUVs in cities?

Without the same clear policy initiative in North America to reduce auto emissions it will be up to the provincial and local governments to develop regulations for pollution standards and safety of their cities and rural places. It calls for a road pricing review to regulate the volume of vehicles using highways and to make public transit alternatives more attractive.

That’s where road pricing by vehicular size, weight and carbon emissions might make sense to shift towards public transit, and less ecologically damaging ways to travel.




  1. An aging demographic driver profile likes higher seats as it is easier to get in and one has more visibility as one sits higher. While more pedestrian death are clearly to be lamented, what about reduced deadly automobile accidents with more SUVs?

    Even in BC’s Lower Mainland with North America’s highest gasoline prices we see more SUVs. Why is that?

    EDITOR’s NOTE: Thomas why are you using this alias?

    1. Not having an immediate option to going carless when our ancient VW Golf crapped out with very strange electrical issues (amongst numerous other things), and not being able to afford an EV (or having a permanent plug-in parking space), I researched Consumer Reports on the reputation of Toyota and found the Yaris hatchback.

      This car was designed for humans in all shapes, sizes and ages. It is quite high for its small size and has the approval of my 90-year old mother-in-law. It’s easy to load and unload the surprisingly large boot, which is higher than the average sedan trunk. I can schlepp three or four 8-foot 2x6s in the interior and still be able to close the hatchback door. A roof rack opens up the possibility of carrying plywood and longer boards, no to mention bikes and roof containers. It is very economical in all respects. Two of them can fit into a spot reserved for a Navigator. And it has more interior room than any other subcompact I’ve encountered with my 6’3″ height.

      This is to say that SUVs are vanity vehicles designed to massage one’s ego and nothing more. I have more respect for a contractor’s battered pick-up or van when honest trades and genuine hauling are involved. A federal climate initiative must tax the hell out of SUVs based on weight in addition to stepping up the carbon tax, with reasonable discounts for registered commercial vehicles, also based on weight (the larger the vehicle the smaller the discount) with hybrids and, one day, electric trucks exempted. Commercial vehicles comprise somewhere around a third of our traffic. So concentrate on reducing the 2/3rds in number, weight, energy consumption and emissions.

      Having said all that, we should really be focussing on creating safe, walkable cities rife with fast, frequent transit networks out of our asphalted landscapes, at least in a long-range vision. So where’s the Transition Plan Mr. Trudeau?

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