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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 July, 2003, 09:04 GMT 10:04 UK
California eyes SUV ban

By Maggie Shiels
BBC correspondent, Sacramento

California could lead the United States in outlawing sports utility vehicles (SUVs).

Ford Excursion SUV
Popular demand may still win out
The big four-wheel-drive cars are often depicted as Public Enemy Number One by environmentalists because of their high petrol consumption.

While green activists praise the proposal as a major step forward, critics predict the legislation will fail because SUVs are so popular with drivers.

"God saw that it was good and Jesus says, love thy neighbour as thyself, yet too many of the cars, trucks and SUVs that are made are polluting our air," goes an advert in favour of the ban.

Despite such provocative campaigns, Americans love their cars and the bigger the better.

Even divine criticism has failed to dent phenomenal sales of the SUV.

California legislators believe the answer is a fuel-efficient compact car that gets more than the average 13 - 16 miles a gallon an SUV gets.

Heavy pollution

Low mileage is one reason that the state's treasurer, Phil Angeledis, is sponsoring a bill which will outlaw SUVs.

By beginning to eliminate SUVs from our state fleet... we can set an example - a leadership example
Phil Angeledis
California state treasurer
"Well I think the state has an obligation to set an example," said Mr Angeledis.

"And if we can reduce air pollution, reduce our dependence on oil, if we can cut our costs, then we should do so...

"By beginning to eliminate SUVs from our state fleet, which is one of the largest public fleets... we can set an example - a leadership example."

While California would be the first state to introduce such legislation, the Republican governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney, has indicated he is also looking into a similar ban.

Environmental groups across America are praising California's efforts, particularly because the state is home to nine of the 10 most ozone-polluted counties in the country.

Environmentalist Russell Long of the Bluewater Network says that, with over 30 million cars on California's roads every day, this is an important first step:

"California represents about 2% of global warming emissions altogether.

"As air temperatures increase, we have greater smog and greater smog also leads to a greater incidence of asthma and respiratory infection and premature death."

'Mostly couples'

The consumer organisation which represents SUV drivers, says the legislation is misdirected. Jason Vines is the president of SUV Owners of America:

"Today's most popular SUVs on the market, like the Chevrolet Trailblazer and the Ford Explorer, those vehicles have the same exact emissions as old passenger cars and they have lower emissions from the tailpipe than a passenger car built just three years ago.

"As far as fuel economy, I can't argue with you. Most SUVs get worse fuel economy than a small car but yet they're safer."

In California, the must-have set of wheels is the Hummer H2 - a $50,000 civilian version of the military Humvee.

Gerry Schumacher of Team Hummer in Marin, 32 kilometres (20 miles) north of San Francisco, explains who is buying:

"I would guess less than 10% are true off-roaders. I would say 60% are couples that are between 35 and 55. Another 10 or 20% are single men who just need a 'chick magnet'."

While the Bill's sponsors try to slam the brakes on SUVs being part of the nation's largest vehicle fleet, it is unlikely that Californians as a whole will end their love affair with the gas guzzlers any time soon.

Would you like to see SUVs banned? Have SUVs got an unfairly bad name?

Your reaction:

Over here in the UK we don't have mountains either though I believe the number of 4X4's being sold year on year is growing strong. They are far more than simple workhorses and I feel, bought predominantly for their space and luxury. What is wrong with that? My girlfriend is on the Greenpeace side and so I am really left fighting an uphill battle to change my car for one. As she read this website regularly at work you are not really helping my cause!
Nicholas Gardiner, England

People with SUVs are living life
Dave Henson, UK
Why don't you guys stop moaning? Can't you see people with SUVs are living life? They are driving SUVs because they can afford these machines with relative ease in regards to their financial status and like any person, they are trying to improve their level of living, so do not blame the drivers of these vehicles... blame the manufacturers!
Dave Henson, UK

Hopefully they can start to curb the notion that anyone can drive whatever they want because they are American. I do not have the right to mess up my fellow citizens' health, so why should SUV drivers? I see them all over Chicago with not a speck of dirt and rarely even a trailer hitch, and they are absolutely not safer. The governor of Illinois rides around in one and sets a bad example.
Dan Holmes, USA

I must disagree with Dan Holmes - SUVs are safer, but only for the driver. Everyone else is considerably less safe. Old Volvos had the same problem over here; they were safer for the driver, but being built like an APC they caused 50% of pedestrian deaths in road accidents while accounting for less than 10% of the cars involved in such.
Kelvin Walker, UK

No one complains when someone is driving a Bentley or Rolls
Jason, USA
I recently purchased a 2003 Land Rover Discovery. I've had an SUV for my entire driving career, and after a brief stint driving a car, found it hard to give up the space and sense of security that comes with driving a larger vehicle. No one complains when someone is driving a Bentley or Rolls, cars that get far worse gas mileage than any SUV could come close to. I know driving an SUV is hard on both the wallet and the environment. Still, I can't imagine driving anything else. It's an addiction that's unlikely to die down in America anytime soon.
Jason, USA

What would an outright ban do for people who live and work in the high Sierra Nevada Mountains? 4 wheel drive is often needed where it snows all winter. Here at the beach, the rangers drive 4x4 SUVs on the sand to enforce laws. Will pickup trucks be banned as well? Where will the line be drawn?
Bret Bailey, California, USA

I'm so happy to read this. We do not have a monopoly on the world's environment; the planet exists for us all to share and we all have a duty to preserve it.
Robbie S, USA

SUVs are a national embarrassment. They were created to get through a federal loophole about truck sizes and gas mileage requirements. They are not safer. Many drivers have used their SUV as a crutch to avoid safe driving habits, and heaven help the poor soul who is hit by one: often completely destroying the hit car and seriously injuring or killing the occupants.
Laurie Baughman, USA

These Hollywood hypocrites who parade around town and show up on the red carpet in their gas guzzling limos need to step back and explain to me how my SUV pollutes more than their limo?
Jupiter, USA

The SUV is practical for my needs
Sara Draper, USA
I drive an SUV because it affords me and my daughter safety - especially as I am 5'1 and in a traditional car have a poor view of the road ahead. The SUV is practical for my needs - from carrying visitors from the UK, to shopping, to buying large loads of mulch for the garden. A car cannot offer me these features.
Sara Draper, USA

The answer is in the running costs. Both in the UK and South Korea oil prices are far higher than the states. This forces people to use more economical vehicles. If a high fuel tax was placed on fuel (as in the UK) this would not only have the desired effect but would also increase revenue for the government.
Keith Robinson, South Korea/ UK

I'm a professional field biologist, and I often have to take lengthy trips into the backcountry of the Appalachian mountains. I drive a certain station wagon that was made popular by a well-known Australian celebrity, and I have found that I can go anywhere that I went in an older American marketed SUV, at about twice the fuel efficiency. There is sufficient room for all of my gear, another person, and my 95 pound Labrador Retriever. Wake up America, and smell the emissions.
Dan Jones, USA

Hit them in the pocket book and you will get much better results
Adam Fukushima, Germany
A ban seems a little extreme, especially since there are already so many SUVs on the road in California. In my opinion, the best way to go seems to be just levy a tax. It will send the message: "If you want to drive an SUV, fine. But it will cost." Californians (and other Americans) don't respond well to extreme top-level bureaucratic decisions, but hit them in the pocket book and you will get much better results.
Adam Fukushima, Germany

I live in Ohio, which is basically devoid of hills, much less mountains. I understand why someone in a mountainous area would have the need for an SUV vehicle. However, the influx of Hummers and other SUVs in Ohio and other areas of flat terrain is wasteful and absurd.
Ryan Snyder, USA

Where I live in Brisbane we also suffer the curse of these "mobile tanks" causing both pollution (smog), a hazard to safe driving through reduced visibility for non SUV drivers and the wasteful use of fuel. If a four wheel drive has appeal, then there are an increasing number of other options such as the Subaru range.
John Whitehead, Australia

Excepting the small number of drivers who actually make practical use of the space, SUV ownership ranks with speeding and yakking on the cell phone while driving. People know it's wrong, but they do it anyway. I'm impressed with the political courage of those behind the ban.
Tim Adams, USA

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