Last week’s much talked about television documentary on the dangers of four-wheel-drives highlighted an important issue, but glossed over many significant facts that are vital to our understanding of the pros and cons of such vehicles.
That is the view of the New Zealand Guild of Motoring Writers, the professional body representing journalists whose job it is drive and assess the vast majority of new vehicle models that go on sale in this country.
The basic tenet of the programme – which aired on TV3 last Thursday evening – was that SUVs are inherently more dangerous to other road users, to pedestrians, and to the general public, than conventional cars.
“While this may be true in very general terms, the documentary fell down in several key areas and so presented a picture that could be misleading to the public,” says Jacqui Madelin, Guild president.
“For example, it did not clearly differentiate between ‘conventional’ large off-road four-wheel-drives and smaller and very popular ‘lifestyle’ four-wheel-drives, many of which share their chassis and suspension design with conventional cars, and are accordingly far more car-like in both their handling and crash-test behaviour.”
“In addition, many of the statistics relating to four-wheel-drive vehicles were drawn from the United States, where such vehicles are often even larger than those we see in New Zealand, and where they interact with quite a different type of conventional passenger car fleet.”
The documentary did not give sufficient weight to the positive effect of recent technological developments such as sophisticated airbag systems (both in four-wheel-drives and conventional cars), traction and stability systems, and anti-lock brakes. Critical comments in respect of four-wheel-drive diesel emissions were similarly relevant more to older vehicles as opposed to the modern generation with contemporary diesel technology, and in any case could also be applied to older diesel cars as well as four-wheel-drives.
“All of this suggests that sensible advice in respect of four-wheel-drives is to by new or near-new vehicles rather than older used machines,” says Madelin. “This being the case, it was particularly disappointing that the documentary took at face value the opinions of some self-interested folk involved in the sale of older used four-wheel drives.”
“The statements in respect of used import vehicles versus New Zealand new machines were misleading at best, as was the claim made in the programme that four-wheel-drives are more dangerous in collisions with small cars than larger cars are.”
Madelin did endorse the programme’s call to bring imported four-wheel-drives into line with passenger cars by making both subject to the same frontal impact standards.
But she says the viewing public would have been better served had greater objectivity been brought to the show from a New Zealand perspective by consulting either the Motoring Writers’ Guild, or another reputable independent organisation such as the AA.
“Our Guild members, for example, are vastly experienced at analysing the handling performance and other characteristics of all manner of vehicles – from small cars to large four-wheel-drives – in New Zealand conditions.”
The final and perhaps most important point is that the vast majority of car accidents in this country would be avoided if motorists were better equipped with the skills to adjust their driving to different types of vehicles and conditions, and to pay due attention to their driving.
“At the end of the day, it is not four-wheel-drives that kill, but motorists driving them – and other vehicles – badly,” says Madelin. “This country’s motoring public needs to face up to the fact that the poor standard of our own driving, not different types of vehicles, is the underlying cause of our road toll.”
For further information contact:
Motoring Writers’ Guild president
025 751 521
Motoring Writers’ Guild vice president
027 686 3711