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Wednesday, 13 November 2002
Page: 8969

Mr RIPOLL (7:30 PM) —The humble four-wheel drive vehicle has come in for a lot of bashing in recent months. There is no limit to those who will line up to give the four-wheel drives a kick in the bumper and no limit to the denigration heaped on the drivers of this said `pox on society'. I cannot recall such hysteria since the George W. Bush speech on the war on terror: `we'll flush them out', `we'll get them', `down every burrow'. If it sounds like war, it is because it is.

But is all this criticism fair or are they just fair game? There have been some very high-profile critics who want these vehicles banned and who have said things about the drivers that cannot be repeated in this chamber. One of these critics is former Prime Minister Paul Keating, just to name one. The most infamous four-wheel drive hater says that all four-wheel drives should be banned, taxed out of reach and purged from city roads completely. But whatever is said, the reality is that ordinary Australians still regard the humble four-wheel drive as a part of their lives and a part of our culture. Statistics show that sales of four-wheel drives have soared and are still growing, making up over 22 per cent of total vehicle sales.

Gone are the days when only farmers and outback folk owned four-wheel drives. Today the owners of four-wheel drives are mums and dads who need extra seats for a big family or to pick up their kids' schoolfriends, people who want to go fishing and exploring, retired couples who want a vehicle that is big enough to take them all around Australia towing a caravan or boat, and families who want to spend the odd weekend at Fraser Island or Moreton Island—if you are from my area. They are also tradesmen and workers, who have four-wheel drives for use on construction sites and for towing heavy trailers. They are ordinary people who cannot afford more than one vehicle but want a practical motor car. There is a whole range of different people, including the Toorak tractor drivers in their $100,000-plus Range Rovers and the yuppies who never go off-road.

Whoever drives these cars, and for whatever reason, the fact is that obviously they are legal and completely meet Australian safety standards; in fact many of them exceed these standards. According to national road toll figures, four-wheel drives have been involved in 12 per cent of all road fatalities. This is a tragedy, of course, and that number needs to be reduced. It is also an increase from previous years. However, if you compare the increase in the number of four-wheel drives and kilometres travelled, it is on par with statistics for other vehicles. The national road toll is not high because of four-wheel drives; it is high because people have accidents. The main factors known to be involved in causing deaths on our roads are driver fatigue; drink-driving, which is responsible for the majority of fatalities; road conditions or driving contrary to road conditions; inexperienced and young drivers— those most at risk; speeding; and road rage. There are many other factors, such as very poor roads and very dangerous black spot areas; and country roads remain high-risk areas. But nowhere does the four-wheel drive turn up as the reason for and cause of road fatalities—simply because it is not the culprit.

There are many types of four-wheel drive vehicles, including very small two-seater types that weigh less and are smaller than most compact cars. There are four-wheel drive vehicles such as the Subaru WRX or Honda CRV, a sedan and a sports hatch respectively. Then there are those growing in popularity, such as the Hyundai, the Mitsubishi and other makes of four-wheel drive medium sized wagons that are no larger than the average Commodore or Falcon. Not all four-wheel drives are very large, gas-guzzling monsters, as portrayed by some. Many of the large Toyota and Nissan four-wheel drives are also LPG converted to save on fuel costs and reduce pollution, something that the government should seriously consider encouraging—along with a high ethanol content; that would be a great idea as well.

Four-wheel drives are here, and they are here to stay. We cannot ban them from city roads any more than we can ban red, two-door cars with fluffy dice swinging from the rear-vision mirror. So let's just cut the rubbish and get on with the serious issues, like reducing the incidence of drink-driving, speeding, road rage and so on, and improving our road networks and public transport systems. No one type of vehicle is the scourge of society. It seems that we in the city have just grown intolerant of the yuppie who has traded in his BMW for a Range Rover—ironically, now of course you can buy a four-wheel drive BMW. So that takes care of that. The four-wheel drive yuppie is a symbol of wealth and modern society that most of us do not like, but this is no reason to condemn all four-wheel drives and their owners. So no matter the size, type and safety of the vehicle, do not allow the four-wheel drive to stand alone in the car yard of obscenity. Come on; give the four-wheel drive a chance. It is not some evil, nasty toy of the bourgeois imperialist; it is just a car— that is all it is. And let's not make excuses for our bad drivers, our bad roads, our road ragers and our drink-drivers. They are the culprits, not the humble four-wheel drive.