New cars are getting too fat for our roads.
That’s according to new analysis of models sold in Britain, by green campaigners, which found on average they have got 1cm wider every two years.
This is due to the increase in popularity of large SUVs, which have overtaken family hatchbacks in the last decade to become the second most popular vehicle type in the UK – and are only marginally outsold by small cars each year.
As such, more than half of motors in showrooms today are wider than a standard 180cm on-street parking bay, says green think tank, Transport & Environment (T&E).
And while the average new car has swollen to 180.3cm – or 200cm with its wing mirrors out – the campaigners fired a broadside at a breed it dubs ‘mega SUVs’, which are 200cm wide on average, or 220cm with wing mirrors.
Too fat for our roads? The average width of an on-street parking bay in cities in the UK is 180cm. A new report from a green think tank says half of new cars sold in Britain are fatter than this – and it has blamed the rise in popularity of SUVs
Transport & Environment says the wider cars are leaving less room for other road users
The study found that the average width of new cars expanded to 180.3cm in the first half of 2023, up from 177.8cm in 2018.
Historical data held by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) shows that this trend of new cars increasing in breadth by 1cm every two years had been ongoing for the two decades up to 2020.
The report pinpointed certain cars as having grown substantially, with the new generation Land Rover Defender 20cm wider than the old 4×4 and BMW’s X5 growing 6cm in six years.
In 2023, Volvo as a brand – which is ditching conventional cars in favour of SUVs -went 4.1cm wider in one year alone.
A review across different European markets shows only Germany has wider new cars on sale than the UK today.
This is mostly a result of the growing appetite for SUVs in recent years.
Exclusive new car market analysis by This is Money showed just how much SUV sales have accelerated in the last decade against other passenger vehicle types.
Back in 2013, official registrations data shows that two in five (39.5 per cent) of all new passenger cars entering the road were superminis and city cars.
While they still remain the most commonly purchased new cars today, they represented just one in three (30.4 per cent) registrations in 2023 – and it is the SUV that’s eating into their market dominance.
A decade ago, ‘dual purpose’ sports utility vehicles represented only 11 per cent of the market.
But a boom in demand in recent years has seen SUVs overtake family hatches to become the nation’s second most popular car type, making up 28.6 per cent of all registrations.
Transport & Environment has blamed luxury SUVs for the bloating of new cars sold in Britain. Pictured: Bentley’s Bentayga SUV
Rolls-Royce’s £300,000 Cullinan is one of the widest cars sold in Britain today with a girth of 2.16 metres. It means this luxury SUV can’t be parked legally in most city-size on-street parking bays
In 2013, SUVs represented just over one in ten (11%) of all new cars. Fast forward a decade and they now account for almost three in ten (28.6%). In terms of passenger vehicle type, only city cars/superminis sell in greater numbers
T&E says that while new cars sold in the UK are subject to the same 255cm maximum width as buses and trucks. a review needs to be carried out about these rules before Britain’s streets are overcome with excessive vehicles.
It says more than half of new cars sold in 2023 were already too wide for the minimum 180cm on-street parking space in major UK cities.
This is making legally parking large and luxury SUVs impossible – and can result in fines if the vehicle is outside the designated white lines.
Failure to park within the white lines of a conventional on-street parking bay in a city – like this one in London – can result in a fine for drivers
T&E says the latest Land Rover Defender is some 20.6cm wider than the previous-generation off-roader. This is becoming a major problem for narrow city streets and single-lane rural roads
The BMW X5 on sale today is some 6cm wider than the one in showrooms six years ago, according to the study
The widest SUV currently sold in the UK – though in very limited numbers – is the Hummer EV.
London-based luxury car dealer Clive Sutton is importing the electric beast for UK customers – though with a width of 230cm, it is half a metre too thick to fit in an on-street parking bay in cities like London.
This colossal Hummer EV is 2.3 metres wide. It dwarfs conventional cars sold in Britain and looks enormous on London’s busy streets (pictured)
How does the Hummer EV compare to other cars on Britain’s roads? It will eclipse and Range Rover and even a Rolls-Royce Cullinan, both of which are extremely large SUVs
And T&E believes these hulking Chelsea tractors are ‘piling yet more pressure on roads from competing uses’.
Its report said: ‘The trend towards wider vehicles is reducing the road space available for other vehicles and cyclists while parked cars are further encroaching on footpaths.
‘The wider designs have also enabled the height of vehicles to be further raised, despite crash data showing a 10cm increase in the height of vehicle fronts carries a 30 per cent higher risk of fatalities in collisions with pedestrians and cyclists.’
The think tank says the UK’s legislation around vehicle width is still that inherited from the EU and can be reviewed independently following Brexit.
It says a mandated width limit for cars – which should also be law for EU markets – should be introduced from 2030 to prevent passenger cars taking up more street space.
Richard Hebditch, director for T&E UK, said: ‘The trend of cars getting wider has been progressing for decades and that trend will continue until the UK sets stricter limits.
‘Currently we allow new cars to be as wide as trucks. This has meant our roads are now home to big SUVs and American style pick-up trucks that are parking on our footpaths, endangering pedestrians and cyclists and making everyone else on our roads less safe.’
Sarah McMonagle, director of external affairs at Cycling UK, said people driving the widest vehicles are those who are ‘most likely to pass people cycling more closely than those driving narrower ones’.
She says this is particularly the case on narrow rural lanes or on residential streets with lots of parking, which often sees those on bikes ‘bullied off the road to make way’.
McMonagle added: ‘We need government action to stop motor manufacturers fuelling our addiction to ever more obese cars.
‘Bigger cars are not better, they’re less sustainable, make our roads more dangerous, and take up more space, increasing congestion.’
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