I came across an article via Laura Laker, a Guardian columnist about SUVs. In her Twitter feed, she points to an historical piece from 2004 by Malcolm Gladwell from the New Yorker about the physical and psychological dangers that these vehicles pose for both those inside and outside these vehicles. The fact that these vehicles weren’t required to have the same safety features as other cars made them cheap to build increasing the manufacturers profit margin. The psychological dangers relate to person type (not my assumption but “market research”) who are attracted to driving these vehicles but also the presumed safety of being seated higher up and being in a larger, more robust looking machine.
To me on my bicycle this has always meant that if one of these things crashes into me, I have a higher likelihood of fatal injury than if hit by a smaller car at the same speed-the higher the vehicle, the greater risk of upper body and/or head injury. Not a comfortable piece of reading over my morning coffee before I headed out on my crosser into the cool morning air. Even if the article is over 15 years old and most SUVs in Europe at least aren’t designed on the “truck” model that he refers to, their height and longer emergency stopping distances remain a worry for me as a vulnerable road user.
So I decided to do a bit of research of my own to distract me from the boredom of a well worn route on a dreary morning. How many SUVs do I encounter on a normal biking to work day? I excluded work/trade vehicles and any that had a company logo, focussing on just the privately owned ones.
In total, I counted 43 during my 21km trip. 4km were on a dedicated shared path away from vehicle traffic. Living semi rural, I was not surprised to see that 5 of the first 9 were either a 4×4 or SUV. 18 of the remaining 34 were parked in suburban streets within a 2km area before I hit the final 4km non vehicle traffic route to work.
Gladwell does go on to argue that perhaps those generally driving smaller cars feel unsafe so they may anticipate potential accidents sooner and take measures to avoid them. It’s an interesting concept and one that reinforces my defensive concept of riding. So are the roads less safe because of the increased number of these vehicles on the road? I don’t have the answer but all I can do is understand the risk that these vehicles pose to me and ride accordingly. I certainly won’t buy one and I don’t see the need. Petrol is extortionate and I already have a gas guzzling camper that also serves as bike transport.
So I did ride defensively as is usual. Only once was I cut up by an @®$€hat on the way to work. In a hatchback. I set off for home 20 minutes before sunset. I stopped at a level train crossing that had just raised to see a fleet of 7 4×4/SUVs coming from the opposite direction. Maybe they were on the way to a protest planning meeting over all the bad press.
The 10mph SW wind was supposed to be a tailwind but all the way felt cold and across me. Dem legs had no riddim until I kept it in the small ring, put my head down and spun fast circles. Even that was hard work but working on the higher cadence distracted me for long enough until home was 1km away.
The celebratory fireworks went off in my head as I arrived, spent; safe in the knowledge of a shorter amble tomorrow to spin the legs once more.