When the German-British statistician and economist Ernst Schumacher said “Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction“, he was making the case for human-scale, decentralised and appropriate technologies. It’s a shame car makers did not take note.
Cars are getting heavier. An appetite for creature comforts like air conditioning and electric windows has helped pile on the pounds, but it’s the car occupant safety features that have seen the family runabout become ever more tank-like. Everybody wants to remain safe on the roads, but the heavier and faster the next car, the more robust your own vehicle needs to be. You need only look at how the original mini, or Fiat 500 or VW Golf have become bloated in their middle age. Unfortunately, the real losers are those outside the cars.
So serious is the threat from heavier cars – driven largely by the current fashion for SUVs – that The European Transport Safety Council (ETSC) has called for a ban on SUVs in towns and cities in a bid to cut cyclist and pedestrian fatalities. The risk of severe injury or death for a pedestrian is higher in collisions with Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs) and vans compared to passenger cars because of the way they are designed: SUVs and vans are stiffer, they have higher bumpers and are heavier.”
Some say that autonomous vehicles will make the roads less dangerous. However, the case for driverless cars is far from proven and for all their complexity, it appears certain unhelpful behaviours run deep. For example, Google has admitted that if it wants its autonomous cars to survive alongside aggressive human drivers on the open road, they need to be more assertive. Engineers have tweaked software that controls the cars to give them a slightly more aggressive edge. As a result, Google cars will creep forward at junctions to get through ahead of other drivers.
If car design is a reflection of our own personalities, then we have become a nation of bad tempered and aggressive drivers. It seems like cars need to be more aggressively styled than their predecessors in order to stand out from the crowd – an evolutionary trait that does nothing to reduce road danger. Why not make cars look happy? Even the most self-avowed petrol-head would admit that driving should be a somewhat happy, enjoyable experience. We’d all be better off if car design reflected that.
Small is beautiful
Sometimes referred to as a micro car, a quadricycle is a four-wheeled vehicle with an unladen mass not more than 400 kg (excluding batteries if it is an electric vehicle) and whose maximum continuous rated power does not exceed 15 kW.
There is a perception that large, heavy cars such as 4X4s are safe, but they pose an increased risk to pedestrian in the event of a collision. Quadricycles on the other hand are designed to operate in urban areas at low speeds. According to Government figures, Greater Manchester has an average traffic speed of 12 mph, London 14 mph and South Yorkshire 15 mph. The fact quadricycles are lighter than conventional cars makes them less of a risk to pedestrians and less damaging to the road surface. In fact, in areas where people live and work, there’s a strong argument that any vehicle heavier and faster than a quadricycle poses an unacceptable risk.
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