According to pre-election speeches, the Clean Car Discount scheme (CCD) may be soon gone. National, despite being popular with the public at large, has criticized the electric car rebate as a ‘Tesla subvention’ and the fees for high-emission vehicles as a ute tax.
Waka Kotahi, the transport agency, has already suspended funding for initiatives relating to cycling, public transport, and pedestrians pending “clear directions from the incoming Government on its investment priorities in transport.”
It’sIf the CCD ends, the upward trend for SUV and ute sales, which dwindled with the introduction of the program, will pick up again. The impact of the CCD ending on road safety, emissions reduction, and other modes of transport could be substantial.
Utes and SUVs are taking over.
New Zealand’s streets are already dominated by big vehicles.
In 2009, more than 75% of passenger vehicles registered were small cars, sedans, and hatchbacks. Imports of SUVs and Utes were only 20%.
In 2022, of the 164,813 new cars sold, 87 669 (53%) would be SUVs, while 35 056 (21%) would be utes. About 25% of all new registrations are other vehicles such as passenger cars, vans, and buses.
Read more: Where did the cars go? How heavier, costlier SUVs and utes took over Australia’s roads
Four of the five top-selling vehicles in the passenger segment in 2022 were utes and SUVs. They included (in order of sales volume) the Ford Ranger, Toyota Hilux, Mitsubishi Outlander, and Mitsubishi Triton. Combined, these four big vehicles accounted for 40% of new registrations.
Low fuel economy directly correlates to increased carbon emissions. The Ford Ranger can have a fuel efficiency rating between 7.6 L/100 km and 11.5L/100km, while the Toyota Hilux ranges from 7.1 L/100km up to 9.7L/100km.
By comparison, the best-selling conventionally fuelled compact car, the Suzuki Swift, manages to achieve a much more efficient 4.6 – 6.1 L/100km.
SUV and ute sales in New Zealand slowed recently but may pick up again. Author provided (no reuse)
Blind spots and safety
The SUVs and Utes are also taller and heavier, with higher grilles, bonnets, and blind spots. They are, therefore, more dangerous for pedestrians, cyclists, and other road users in urban areas.
A pedestrian who is vulnerable to a crash will be more likely to receive a direct head strike from an SUV or ute than from a small car. In the latter case, they may roll onto the bonnet of the vehicle and suffer a less severe blow.
Read more: Four reasons SUVs are less safe and worse for the environment than a regular car.
A recent report from the Vias Institute in Brussels found that if a ute hits a pedestrian or cyclist, “the risk of fatal injuries [increases] by nearly 200%”.
In the same report, ute occupants were 65% less likely to sustain a fatal or serious injury in an accident than other vehicle types. The safety of SUVs and ute drivers is cited as a major reason for purchasing a larger vehicle.
The risk of fatal or serious injury to occupants of small cars colliding with utes is increased by 50%.
Technology fix problems
Blind spots are a greater danger to road users. SUV and ute makers have taken note. The vehicles have been fitted with new technology, such as proximity sensors, 360-degree cameras, and automatic emergency brakes (AEB).
The technology is designed to improve the safety of vehicle occupants and avoid collisions. It has been shown that it can reduce collisions between vehicles by as much as 25%.
It is not clear how pedestrians and bicyclists fare. One obvious problem is that the technology is unable to work when the vehicle is in a turning motion, in bad weather, or moving at a slow speed.
Read more: 70 years of road-based policies created today’s problems – does National’s transport plan add up?
A recent study from the US Insurance Institute for Highway Safety showed fatal collisions with crossing pedestrians were more likely when a vehicle was turning than when it was not.
Rates for SUVs were nearly twice as high as rates for cars, while they were almost four times higher for pickups.
According to a report by the Australasian New Car Assessment Program, the independent vehicle testing organization in Australia and New Zealand, the Ford Ranger AEB system” does not react when pedestrians are present during turning scenarios. The Toyota Hilux or Mitsubishi Triton do not have ANCAP data for turning.
Danger and discouragement
Utes and SUVs tend to have larger blind spots when reversing than smaller vehicles. Five children die in New Zealand every year due to “backover” accidents.
In 2011, a report by Safekids New Zealand found that child driveway injuries were on the rise.
Children are run over by cars more than any other vehicle type. However, light trucks, vans with four-wheel drive, and sport utility vehicles have been consistently identified as having a higher number of accidents.
According to ANCAP tests, the top four SUVs and utes sold in New Zealand do not have AEB systems that are tested in backover scenarios.
Road deaths are disproportionately attributed to pedestrians and cyclists. The road was especially dangerous for vulnerable road users. Cyclists accounted for 5 percent of road deaths, despite only accounting for 1 percent of trips.
Ironically, the overwhelming presence of SUVs and Utes has a negative impact on the ability of communities to design safer streets and encourage more walking and biking. The new government’s efforts to promote walking and cycling and reduce the number of large vehicles will be hampered if it reverses the transport policies.