T&E: ‘Cars are getting 1 cm wider every two years’

Car manufacturers are making increasingly wider cars. For instance, the 1974 Volkswagen Golf was ‘only’ 1,610 m wide, but the 2019 version measured 1,790 m. Not to mention the Dodge Ram, which is more than two meters wide – 2,085 m, to be precise- overshooting the 1,80 m-wide parking spaces by almost 30 cm.

The average car width in Europe increased from 170,5 cm in 2001 to 180,2 cm in 2020. According to research by the environmental organization Transport & Environment (T&E), newly sold passenger cars are getting one centimeter wider, on average, every two years. And without any regulatory action by European lawmakers, this trend will continue due to the rising sales of SUVs.

Higher parking fees

Paris could be the first major European capital to tackle this trend if citizens endorse higher parking charges for SUVs in a referendum next month, on February 4th. A recent poll by the Clean Cities Campaign found that around two-thirds of Parisians favor higher parking fees for large, heavy, and polluting vehicles.

If approved, new measures in the French capital would set an important precedent for many other European cities considering similar changes. The new rules would triple the parking price to €18/hour in central districts and 12 in other areas but would not apply to Paris residents’ parking.

Ever-wider trend

The average width of new cars in the EU now exceeds 1,80 m, and around half of the sales exceed this figure. 1,80 m is a crucial threshold because it is a frequently used minimum specification for the width of on-street parking in Europe.

Troublingly, the ever-wider trend continues with large SUVs and pickups approaching or exceeding 2 m, like the BMW X5 (2,004 m), the Land Rover Defender (1,996 m) or the Kia EV9 (1,98 m).

Crucial space for other road users

The trend toward wider vehicles reduces the road space available for other vehicles and cyclists, while parked cars encroach on footpaths. So, reviewing the maximum width limit of light-duty vehicles – cars, crossovers, SUVs, pickups, and vans – is vital to protect public space from further encroachment, including footpaths, roadways, and adjoining parking.

Such a review must also consider the road safety risks posed by ever-wider SUVs, particularly since increased width enables further raising of the vehicle’s height. Vehicle fronts raised by 10 cm carry a 30% higher risk of fatalities in collisions with pedestrians and cyclists.

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