ATTITUDES to four-wheel drivers have changed a lot over the past 10 years or so… probably because just about everyone drives a 4x4 these days. Throughout the almost eight years I sat in the editor’s chair at 4X4 Australia, from 2002 to 2009, 4Wders seemed to cop a lot of crap from other road users, egged on by special interest groups and big corporations. As a result I often found myself defending the rights of 4Wders through the mainstream media in newspapers, on talkback radio and via morning TV shows and current affairs programs.
Drivers of passenger sedans and hatchbacks used to complain that large 4WDS blocked their view in traffic and other such nonsense. So they picked on them, claiming “4WDS have no place in the city” and “the only reason people drive 4WDS is they have small egos”, or even nastier aspersions such as “they drive a big 4WD to make up for their small appendages”.
This is the kind of fodder mainstream media thrives on: find an easy target the majority of its audience resents and give ’em hell. Special interest groups such as the Pedestrian Council of Australia (PCA) fed the fire with inflammatory language, pumping out absurd press releases with titles labelling 4WDS as “Urban Assault Vehicles” and calling on special licences and age restrictions for drivers of 4WDS weighing more than two tonnes. Streuth! If that were the case today then just about everyone would have a ‘special’ licence.
Several years ago during a live radio interview I was ambushed by the selfappointed chairman of the PCA, Harold Scruby. The station had prearranged an interview with me to ostensibly talk about that year’s 4X4 Of The Year winner, but when discussing the topic the presenter suddenly asked for Scruby’s opinion – up until that point I had no idea this bloke was on the other line. An argument ensued and, after the interview, I made a note to add said radio station to my blacklist.
On another occasion I was invited to debate the PCA Chairman on Channel 9’s The Today Show about the increased use of 4WDS in urban areas or some such thing. I obliged and, although I presented my opinions in a well-informed and calm manner, afterwards I reflected that there really is no arguing with someone who seems overwhelmed by emotion and irrational thought.
In 2005 another mob called The Australia Institute released an absurd web paper titled ‘Who Drives 4WDS?’ which made claims based on Roy Morgan research that stated things such as “City drivers of 4WDS also tend to be more obese, with two thirds (66 per cent) being overweight or obese compared to 57 per cent of the population overall” and “In their attitudes, city drivers of large 4WDS are morally more conservative and less community orientated than other drivers.”
What a crock! Apparently the Roy Morgan research was based on data collected from 24,718 respondents aged 14 and over. If they were asking 14-year-olds for their opinions on the topic, I can only imagine how skewed the questions must have been. Nevertheless, I headed over to the Channel 9 studios once again, this time to debunk the web paper’s findings in front of another breakfast TV audience.
Then there was the big insurance company that commissioned research to show that in urban collisions between large 4WDS and small passenger cars, the small cars came out second best. Now anyone with even the slightest understanding of physics could figure that one out without commissioning a research paper, so why the hell did an insurance company (which, by the way, insures both large 4WDS and small passenger cars) feel the need to head down this path? Embarrassingly, just after being interviewed by Today Tonight regarding the matter, I drove a large 4WD into the back of a small car. But I digress…
These days the mainstream media seems to have moved on from bagging 4Wders on a regular basis, probably because most of their audience now drives a 4x4. Either that or they’ve simply found something else to have a go at.
Popularity in 4WDS has seen a shift in attitude towards these vehicles.