For no good reason, cars are getting bigger, and the effects are negative across the board. According to several studies summarized by the Guardian, larger vehicles are leading to more pollution, decreased safety, and less overall space.
What is happening?
The trend has long been documented in the United States, where pickup trucks and massive SUVs have become increasingly favored by the general public since the 1990s. Now, the big cars have spread to Europe as well.
Despite the widely held belief that Europeans prefer compact vehicles, the average European car weight has increased by 9% in the past decade, with SUVs accounting for the vast majority of that increase.
Why is this concerning?
The consequences are bad for everyone and have not always been obvious. One little-known drawback to larger cars is the amount of particle pollution they generate from their tires. According to one study, the brakes in SUVs have to work twice as hard as those in a smaller car, causing increased particle pollution every time the vehicle slows down or stops.
However, the study observed that this problem is less pronounced in hybrid and battery electric vehicles, which use regenerative braking (where the electric motor slows down) instead of friction braking when possible.
Another downside to the larger vehicles is safety — especially the safety of children. One study showed that a child is eight times more likely to die when struck by an SUV than a standard-sized car.
“Fatal pedestrian and pedalcyclist crashes have been on the rise in the United States since 2009. This rise in fatalities coincides with the rise of large vehicles on American roadways,” the study said.
Larger cars also take up more space, which is becoming an especially prominent problem in cities. The Paris city government recently announced a plan to charge SUV drivers higher parking fees, which makes sense because they require extra parking.
What can be done about it?
Unfortunately, these problems are only likely to worsen as long as massive pickup and SUVs remain trendy — and as long as car companies keep making their stock bigger and bigger, which increases their profit margins, as bigger cars sell for more money.
“We can only buy the cars on sale, and if automakers refuse to build or import smaller vehicles, all that leaves are big ones for us to choose from,” Ars Technica wrote. “[Getting] politicians to pull some policy levers that could encourage [them] — tying an EV’s tax credit to a lower curb weight for example, rather than the current scheme, which creates a perverse incentive to make more SUVs and fewer cars” could help.
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