ARCHIV - 05.08.2019, Bayern, München: Ein SUV fährt auf dem Münchner Ring. SUV raus aus den Innenstädten? Ein Unfall in Berlin-Mitte mit einem SUV hat eine breite Debatte angefacht. SUV sind bei Autokäufern in Deutschland zunehmend beliebt, obwohl sie gleichzeitig von Kritikern als besonders umweltschädlich bezeichnet werden. Foto: Sina Schuldt/dpa +++ dpa-Bildfunk +++

At the end of 2021, an SUV driver drives a BMW through a red traffic light. Seven months later, the district court in Frankfurt am Main decided that the accused had to pay an increased fine because the vehicle was an SUV.

When pronouncing the verdict, the court determined that there was an “increased operational risk” due to the vehicle design. Because of the “box-like design and the higher front structural elements” the SUV “poses a greater risk to other road users.” The court order states that the risk from the vehicle is “more serious” than normal.

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Normally, the standard rate for the fine in a comparable case is 200 euros. However, because the accused person had previously collected several points in Flensburg and because of the greater risk posed by the type of construction, the fine in this particular case is 350 euros. This increases the amount of the fine by 75 percent.

Whether SUV drivers should be confronted with higher fines and penalties because of the higher construction of their cars has been a controversial topic for several years.

As early as 2019, a serious traffic accident in downtown Berlin raised the question of whether SUVs were responsible for an increased risk in road traffic. At that time, an SUV driver suffered an epileptic seizure while driving and crashed into a group of pedestrians on Invalidenstrasse. Four people died in the accident, including a three-year-old boy.

Because of their size, critics like to refer to the “sports utility vehicles” as “monster SUVs” or “road tanks”. In the opinion of the district mayor of Berlin-Mitte, Stephan von Dassel, “such tank-like cars” generally do not belong in the city. As early as 2019, he described SUVs as “climate killers, threatening even without an accident. Every driving error becomes a mortal danger for innocent people.”

And indeed, accident experts found out that smaller cars usually suffer more accident damage when they collide with an SUV.

However, traffic experts such as the head of accident research at the insurers, Siegfried Brockmann, point out that SUVs do not necessarily have to pose a particular danger for other drivers, despite higher accident damage. Not the mass is decisive, but the speed. A small car that is traveling at 70 kilometers per hour is more dangerous on the road than an SUV that is only driving at 40 kilometers per hour.

SUVs also have a bad reputation when it comes to sustainability. Because the off-road vehicles weigh almost twice as much as a small car, sometimes weighing more than two tons, a lot more material is required for SUVs, which in turn causes more CO2 emissions. Environmental protection organizations such as Greenpeace criticize SUVs for their allegedly higher energy consumption.

As recently as February of this year, environmental activists in various districts of Berlin deflated the tires of around 150 cars at night. Messages such as “Traffic turnaround now!” or “Fuck SUV” were left behind on the vehicles, most of which were SUVs.

The aspect of climate protection and the supposedly increased risk of accidents from SUVs is often dismissed by the automotive industry as one-sided propaganda. Despite all the criticism, the market for SUVs is growing steadily.

SUV lovers consider the large off-road vehicle to be a credit for the fact that the driver can see the entire road thanks to the raised seating position. In addition to clarity, the design would make it easier for older or physically handicapped people to get started. Last but not least, the occupants of an SUV are better protected in the event of an accident.