Head Teachers' in traditional mortar boards and gowns distributed 'could do better' report cards to 4×4 drivers outside Edgbaston High School on Westbourne Road, Edgbaston, while 'lollipop ladies' remind parents of the threat urban 4x4s pose to children's safety and the environment. Our action coincided with an event in North London where protesters targeted a busy junction that becomes snarled up and dangerous during the early morning school run. Similar actions took place in Manchester and Nottingham.
The Alliance, made up of members of the Green Party, Friends of the Earth, Transport 2000 and other groups, hit the headlines last year when campaigners issued fake parking tickets to urban 4×4 drivers across the country for their poor choice of vehicle.
The daily school run epitomises the problems large 4x4s cause in cities and suburbs. At the school gates their height and bulk makes them a hazard to cyclists, other motorists and pedestrians, particularly children. Kevin Clinton, head of road safety for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, has described 4x4s as "totally unsuitable for the school run".
Unfortunately, the message isn't getting through. Last year, sales of 4x4s grew by 12.8 per cent to 179,439, more than double the number sold a decade ago. More than a fifth of these were purchased in the Greater London area and only five per cent are expected to ever be taken off-road by their owners. Worryingly, manufacturers also reported a fall in demand for small, fuel-efficient vehicles.
Driving a 13mpg 4×4 rather than a 25mpg car for a year wastes more energy than leaving a fridge door open for seven years. That's urban mpg, not combined mpg, as our protest was directed specifically at the irresponsible use by city dwellers of 4×4 vehicles in the urban environment, the school run in this instance. A quick look at urban mpg figures at www.landrover.com/gb/en shows 4x4s such as the Range Rover V8 4.4 (12.7mpg) and the Discovery V8 petrol (13.5mpg) to be ill-designed for urban motoring. The Freelander TD4 diesel (manual) has an urban mpg of 31.0, which is better than many models, but if you want fuel efficiency you could try the MG Rover ZR TD (urban mpg 39.2) for a start. Friends of the Earth is calling for Chancellor Gordon Brown to make Vehicle Excise Duty cheaper for smaller, cleaner cars, and more expensive for larger, more polluting ones.
If you are concerned about road safety, take an advanced driving course, don't get a 4×4. Churchill Insurance reported last year that urban 4x4s are involved in 25 per cent more accidents than saloon cars and do far more damage. Of the top ten cars tested since 1998 by the European New Car Assessment Programme (Euro-NCAP), none is a 4×4 and only three off-roaders make it into the top twenty. In Euro-NCAP’s pedestrian safety crash tests large 4x4s achieve an average score of 4 out of 36, compared with 10 and 13 for large and small family cars, respectively. Manufacturers are responding to these concerns (the new Skoda Octavia and Honda CR-V CTDi, for example) but the fact remains that these vehicles belong off-road, not on the school run.
For more information about the Alliance Against Urban 4x4s visit www.stopurban4x4s.org.uk.