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Wednesday 4th June 2003

The Today 4x4 Experiment

Would a 4x4 driver be able to swap a tank for a small city runaround? And could an environmentally conscious driver be converted by the luxury of the SUV experience?

Starting on Sat 31 May and continuing until Thursday 5 June two of our listeners will be swapping vehicles.

Viv Chambers is the proud owner of a Land Rover.
Adam Surgenor is quite content with his Audi A2.

The Debate

The 4x4 is the ultimate off-road adventurer. Built for dirt roads and heavy terrain, this tank of a car can tackle any environment. But a row has erupted about whether or not these cars should be restricted.

Norman Baker, Environmental Spokesperson and Liberal Democrat MP for Lewes, is concerned that these petrol-guzzling machines are hogging urban thoroughfares and causing increased pollution.

He is particularly critical of townies who use their monster cars on the ‘school run’. Although many drivers claim they feel safer driving 4x4s, Norman Baker accuses them of using the cars as a status symbol. He is so cross that he has begun a campaign to ban these cars from the school run and trips to the local supermarket.

Mr Baker says he is speaking from experience, with his Lewes constituency suffering from heavy traffic and cyclists and pedestrians often forced up against the wall by four-wheel drives.

"There are only so many vehicles they can sell to farmers and others who would legitimately use such vehicles. The slogans which they are using to sell their vehicles are aimed at urban users".

"There are real questions are whether or not someone needs a two-and-a-half tonne, 22-gallon vehicle to nip down to Tescos or take the kids to school. The consequences of ever-increasing use of these vehicles means that other road users often feel intimidated - pedestrians and cyclists certainly do - use of fossil fuels increases dramatically, and our small urban towns, particularly historic towns, are being overwhelmed in some cases by these vehicles.”

The Verdict

"Going around corners, you have to go around them a lot slower ... then you have more trouble accelerating out the other side as well. "The question I was asked on Saturday was 'would I feel like King of the Road?' If anything, I feel like the fat, unfit guy, frustrating people by being in the way.", he reported. "I'm not everybody's favourite person on an A-road."He also has sympathy for Norman Baker's views about educating the public more the appropriate use of 4-wheel-drives. "

Viv doesn't entirely agree.
"It has been lovely having a nice new car, because ours is pretty old, but on the whole we wouldn't be able to do as much as we can in a Land Rover", she said, after several days behind the wheel of Adam's Audi.
"You can't make sweeping statements about people's vehicles. People have very busy lives these days and they choose their vehicles for whatever reasons they have for their families."

There needs to be more of a debate, people need to be more aware of the consequences of their actions, in terms of safety for others. To be honest, it's just a better driving experience being in a smaller car."

Adam found Viv's Land Rover a little too impractical for his city life.

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