The Growing Trend of SUVs Poses Challenges for Climate Action and Road Safety

The rising popularity of SUVs poses significant challenges to climate action and road safety. Experts warn that the Irish Government must intervene to influence consumer choices. One proposed solution is to implement extra taxes on heavier cars, similar to what France and Norway have done. Weight-based taxes in these countries add significant costs to the price of larger car models. Another option is to impose a tax on the lifetime carbon footprint of vehicles, acting as a double deterrent against fossil fuel cars.

Advertising rules could also play a role in addressing this issue. Manufacturers could be obliged to state the weight and lifetime carbon emissions of their cars, with warnings that heavier models are more dangerous to other road users. These measures aim to inform consumers and encourage them to make more sustainable choices.

The increase in sales of SUVs is a cause for concern. Across Europe, SUV sales have grown over 1,000% since 2001. In Ireland, SUVs accounted for more than half of all new car sales in 2022 and continue to gain ground. The larger size and weight of SUVs have significant implications for fuel consumption, pedestrian and cyclist safety, urban space, and damage to roads and bridges.

While new car technologies offer greater efficiencies, these gains are negated by the increasing size of vehicles. SUVs require more power to move due to their added weight and increased drag caused by their height and bulky shape. This applies to both electric vehicles (EVs) and fossil fuel models.

The growth of EV sales has slowed down this year, and petrol and diesel vehicles continue to be sold in larger numbers. If vehicle mass had remained at 2001 levels, the CO2 intensity of new passenger cars would be 10% lower than it currently is. The additional weight of SUVs results in an extra 3.5 tonnes of CO2 emissions from a typical vehicle, along with an increased burden of carbon taxation on drivers.

Experts suggest including weight and carbon footprint in the calculation of Vehicle Registration Tax to address this issue. In countries such as France and Norway, taxes are already imposed based on weight, with penalties for exceeding certain thresholds. Some argue for a ban on SUVs, while others believe that taxes are a fair way to ensure car owners bear the consequences without burdening society at large.

As climate action becomes increasingly urgent, it is crucial for governments and individuals to consider the impact of vehicle choices on the environment and road safety.

– Oireachtas Committee on Environment and Climate Action
– Professor Hannah Daly, University College Cork
– Dr. Peter Mock, International Council on Clean Transportation
– Apostolos Petropoulus, International Energy Agency
– James Nix, Transport and Environment (Brussels-based NGO)

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