Why 4WDs Proliferate in Gridlocked Cities

Sick of wasting your life in traffic? At least you're not alone

If you spend one hour driving to work (much of it, stopped in gridlock) and one hour getting home, at the end of one year you have spent the same amount of time stuck in traffic as the average person spends awake in a month. It’s the textbook definition of wasting your life in traffic.

(Two hours per day equals 10 hours per week equals 480 hours a year with four weeks of annual leave. If you’re awake 16 hours a day for 30 days a month, that’s 480 hours too. It makes you think about all that commuting.)

See my report on peak-hour traffic absurdity, which ran live on Sydney radio 2UE, below. Bankstown to Sydney CBD, toll roads versus free roads.

Australia’s roads are becoming ridiculously congested. It’s obvious, right? Maybe this ‘escape clause’ is one of the reasons why an incredible one in three new-vehicle buyers are purchasing a 4WD vehicle of some description, be it a ‘proper’ 4WD (with real off-road potential), a so-called ‘soft roader’ (read: ‘light-duty 4WD’) or some form of 4WD ute. Perhaps the aspiration one day to escape the daily grind is strong when you’re paying through the neck to sit in peak-hour gridlock.

These people might own a 4WD to escape, but the chances are they probably drive overwhelmingly in congested, peak-hour conditions in big cities. Traffic jams are increasing, as the growth in city-based driving out-paces infrastructure investment, and while public transport fails to cope.

Here’s a snapshot of driving Down Under.

The number of motor vehicles on Australian roads has increased 11.8 per cent since 2006, according to Ausstats. The recent Ausstats Survey of Motor Vehicle Use for the year to 31 October 2010 tells us there are 16 million motor vehicles on Australian roads, driving a total of 227 billion kilometres annually (up eight per cent since 2006).

Passenger vehicles – including your those 4WD that outspoken commentators love to hate – account for 72.1 per cent of that total driving, or 164 billion kilometres. (That’s 4.1 million laps of planet earth.)

In the process, those passenger vehicles consumed 18.4 billion litres of fuel, of which 15.5 billion litres was petrol. The total fuel consumption of all motor vehicles was about 31 billion litres.

You probably think about escaping that congestion often enough – probably when you’re stuck in traffic (God knows there’s time). Being stuck in traffic is becoming increasingly common. We have a huge country and most of it is empty, with vast distances separating our capital cities. However, we do most of our driving within those capital cities. Of the total 227 billion kilometres driven by Australians in the recent survey, 124 billion kilometres (more than half) took place in capital cities. Forty-two billion kilometres of additional driving took place in what Ausstats calls “other urban areas”. In fact ‘only’ 61 billion kilometres of driving took place outside urban areas. That means somewhere between just a third and a quarter of all Australian driving takes place in the boonies. That’s bugger-all of the total, spread over a vast area. (Good for those who enjoy visiting it … so long as word doesn’t get around.)

About half of the driving done by passenger vehicles is for personal and other use – taking little Jimmy to soccer and collecting the groceries, etc. Twenty-seven per cent of all passenger vehicle driving is done just getting to and from work.

Is it any wonder why so many drivers are cracking their necks to get away from it all? That 4WD might look like a fish out of water in dense city congestion … but to the owner it might represent a means to an end – or at least a beacon of hope. One thing 4WD owners can be reasonably assured of is that when (or ‘if’) they finally let their 4WDs off the leash, at least six hours’ drive from the nearest espresso machine, they will actually leave ‘it all’ behind. According to Ausstats, statistically, virtually nobody drives out there.