Stop the surge to big utes

by Richard Denniss in The Daily Telegraph


Originally published in The Daily Telegraph on March 5, 2024

This article originally appeared in The Daily Telegraph, in response to a column that critiqued the call for small cars on our road. You can read the original column via the link below.

If Australian conservatives wonder why they are losing so many elections they would do well to read Tim Blair’s recent response to my simple suggestion that maybe giant 4WD’s aren’t the best way to move around a city.

Tim loves the towering power of big cars, and so do plenty of other drivers. But most road users also value the ability to drive down the road without losing their side mirrors, especially on the narrow old streets in Sydney’s eastern suburbs.

While the advertisements for big 4WDs typically highlight the convenience of driving a car straight from the school pickup to the mountain summit, the reality is that most of the time, most of these cars, are heading to the shops or the office not towing caravans or tradies tools – but all are subsidised by taxpayers.

Within cities, enormous cars make it harder and more expensive for their drivers, and every other driver, to navigate their way home.

Safety is also a problem. Large 4WDs are far more likely to roll over in a crash, crush toddlers in driveways and kill pedestrians. Unsurprisingly, many Australians from all political persuasions think that’s a problem.

The imagined safety benefits of driving a large 4WD flow from the assumption that other people will be in small cars. If Tim crashes his big car into my little one he might come out all right, but if I buy a big car and we crash into each other we will both be worse off.

It might feel great for some but we can’t all drive the biggest car. Just as being first in a line feels good for an individual, if we all do it, we get a stampede.

Some people like to get drunk and drive home, some like to make their motorbikes the noisiest, but we have regulations to protect us and to ensure we can sleep at night. Regulation is essential if we want millions of people to share a city, but when it comes to enormous passenger trucks, Tim bristles at the thought.

In defending the right of Australians to drive enormous 2.5 tonne cars around our cities if they feel like it, he actually compared calls to limit their size and availability to calls to ban guns.

This is where Tim and other conservative culture warriors lose the rest of us. No one wants regulation for the sake of it. But most sensible people understand that giving Americans the freedom to own machine guns has done little to make America safe from crime.

John Howard was no lovey doves lefty and his decision to ban automatic weapons after the Port Arthur Massacres was one of his proudest, most popular and most enduring achievements, one that has saved many lives.

Cars aren’t good or bad, and nor are regulations. No doubt some Australians need to drive enormous cars for work or lifestyle reasons and no one is suggesting they shouldn’t. But in the last 10 years the top-selling cars in Australia have shifted radically away from passenger cars like Commodores and Camry’s to enormous twin cab utes. This shift has nothing to do with a surge in the number of tradies or caravans.

In a free country we should be able to debate the need to regulate noise pollution, drug use, gun control or anything else we want. And of course people like Mr Blair should be free to call people like me all the silly names he can think of. But a quick look at the the performance of culture warriors at the state and federal ballot box suggests most voters would rather have an honest debate than an hysterical one.

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