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Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 May, 2003, 14:04 GMT 15:04 UK
Call for ban on 'school run' 4x4s
by Jackie Storer
BBC News Online political staff

They are built like Sherman tanks and are designed for off road adventures, but in recent times 4x4s have become the vehicle of choice for the harassed parent navigating the school run.

They are the safe, gas guzzling - but good looking - people-movers which give the impression their owner is more "sporty go-getter" than a mum or dad whose biggest challenge is steering a course through the urban jungle.

But now this status symbol is under threat from the tongue-in-cheek ire of Norman Baker, the Liberal Democrats environmentally sound spokesman.

Norman Baker
There are real questions whether or not someone needs a two-and-a-half tonne, 22-gallon vehicle to nip down to Tesco's or take the kids to school
Norman Baker
He claims these off-roaders should be banned from the school run and trips to the supermarket because they intimidate other road users and damage the environment.

Manufacturers of 4x4s should market these vehicles more responsibly, he says.

But his campaign to get off roaders well and truly off the road has, unsurprisingly, motored up against fierce resistance from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), the RAC Foundation and AA.

They claim the vehicles are "an easy target for political opportunists", that people should have the freedom to travel as they pleased and the state should not be able to dictate which vehicles drivers should choose.

Urban users

But Mr Baker says he is speaking from experience, with his Lewes constituency suffering from heavy traffic and cyclists and pedestrians often forced up against the wall by four-wheel drives.

"There are only so many vehicles they can sell to farmers and others who would legitimately use such vehicles," he told BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

"The slogans which they are using to sell their vehicles are aimed at urban users.

"There are real questions whether or not someone needs a two-and-a-half tonne, 22-gallon vehicle to nip down to Tesco's or take the kids to school.

A four-wheel drive vehicle
The RAC says people should be free to choose their vehicles
"The consequences of ever-increasing use of these vehicles means that other road users often feel intimidated - pedestrians and cyclists certainly do - use of fossil fuels increases dramatically, and our small urban towns, particularly historic towns, are being overwhelmed in some cases by these vehicles.

"The whole point of these vehicles and the way they're marketed is to give the impression to those who buy them that they somehow are getting more confidence, they're getting a personality boost, they're getting an opportunity to fight through the 'urban jungle'.

"People who use them should think 'if it's never going to leave tarmac and always going to be used just for school runs, is it really the appropriate vehicle?"'

No alternative?

But Al Clarke, spokesman for SMMT, insists: "There is a danger of victimisation here. First if was White Van Man, now it is off-road drivers. What's next? Sports car owners? Drivers of soft-tops?

"People have to choose the best way to get around in built-up areas. Until there is a situation where there is a real alternative to public transport, people have the right to drive around as they please."

We can't dictate what people can drive
Paul Watters
AA
Edmund King, the RAC Foundation's executive director, said: "Individuals should be free to choose a vehicle, but we would advise people to think about the appropriateness of their vehicle.

"A 4x4 is probably not the best vehicle for getting around town. It's harder to park and harder to navigate through narrow streets, but there should be no ban on such vehicles."

Test drive

Paul Watters, the AA's head of roads and transport, said: "We can't dictate what people can drive. Although some see off-roaders as a fashion accessory, their use should not be restricted and they are suitable for large families.

"But people should be aware they do cost quite a bit to run."

An Institute of Advanced Motorists spokesman said: "Drivers who opt to take heavy 4x4 vehicles on the school run should appreciate that their weight and size does indeed raise road safety issues.

"While any car is potentially a lethal weapon if driven badly, 4x4 drivers need to be particularly careful when they are around vulnerable road users because of the vehicle's weight, the higher centre of gravity and handling characteristics.

"Rather than ban them, as has been suggested, 4x4 drivers might instead consider a specialist course, such as we offer."




SEE ALSO:
River 'threatened by off-roaders'
09 May 03  |  Wiltshire
Four-wheel-drive bandwagon stalls
02 Oct 02  |  Business


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