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California's SUV Ban

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  • Lanyon, Ryan
    An interesting article: http://slate.msn.com/id/2104755/ California s SUV Ban The Golden State has outlawed big SUVs on many of its roads but doesn t seem to
    Message 1 of 2 , Aug 9, 2004
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      An interesting article:

      http://slate.msn.com/id/2104755/

      California's SUV Ban
      The Golden State has outlawed big SUVs on many of its roads but doesn't seem
      to know it.
      By Andy Bowers
      Posted Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2004, at 11:42 AM PT

      Unless you drive one of the largest SUVs, such as the Chevy Suburban, the
      Cadillac Escalade, or the Ford Excursion, I'll bet you've watched them
      thundering down quiet residential lanes and wondered to yourself: Why is
      that monster allowed on this little street?

      Well, here's a surprising piece of news. It may not be. Cities throughout
      California-the nation's largest car market-prohibit the heaviest SUVs on
      many of their residential roads. The problem is, they don't seem to know
      they've done it.

      I discovered this secret ban after noticing the signs at both ends of my
      narrow Los Angeles-area street (a favorite cut-through route for drivers
      hoping to avoid tie-ups on bigger roads). The signs clearly prohibit
      vehicles over 6,000 pounds.


      Hidden in plain sight

      I knew a 6K pound limit ruled out a lot of the larger trucks that routinely
      rumble by my house, unpursued by traffic cops. But then I got to thinking:
      Could some of those bigger SUVs exceed 3 tons? So I did some research, and I
      hit the mother lode.

      It turns out every big SUV and pickup is too heavy for my street. Here's
      just a sampling: The Chevy Suburban and Tahoe, the Range Rover, the GMC
      Yukon, the Toyota Land Cruiser and Sequoia, the Lincoln Navigator, the
      Mercedes M Class, the Porsche Cayenne S, and the Dodge Ram 1500 pickup (with
      optional Hemi). What about the Hummer, you ask? Hasta la vista, baby!

      If you look at the manufacturer's specs for these vehicles, you'll discover
      that they all have a gross vehicle weight rating of more than 6,000 pounds.
      (Click here for more on GVWR vs. curb weight.) Some are way over (the Hummer
      H2 weighs in at 8,600 pounds, and its older sibling the H1 at an astounding
      10,300 pounds-I'm talking to you, Governator). Others manage to top the
      3-ton mark by just a hair (the BMW X5 boasts a GVWR of 6,008 pounds). For
      comparison, a Honda Accord is about 3,000 pounds.

      It's no accident the automakers churn out so many SUVs that break the 6K
      barrier. By doing so, these "trucks" (and that's how they're classified by
      the U.S. Department of Transportation) qualify for a huge federal tax break.
      If you claim you use a 3-ton truck exclusively for work, you can write it
      off immediately. All of it. Up to $100,000 (in fact, Congress raised the
      limit from $25,000 just last year). Heavy SUVs qualify for similar state tax
      breaks in California (up to $25,000) and elsewhere. These vehicles are also
      exempt from the federal "gas guzzler tax" because they're trucks. (And you
      probably know that many SUVs are exempt from the tougher gas mileage and
      safety standards of cars because they're classified as trucks, but that's
      another story.)

      Tax advisers actually warn their clients to make sure they buy vehicles that
      are heavy enough to qualify for the tax breaks. Some offer helpful lists of
      which SUVs will tip the IRS's scales.


      Banned for good reason

      Here's what few people seem to realize: By weighing in at more than 6,000
      pounds, big SUVs are prohibited on thousands of miles of road in California.
      Cities across the state-including San Francisco, Los Angeles, Pasadena, and
      Santa Monica-use the 3-ton cutoff for many or nearly all of their
      residential streets. State law gives them the ability to do this for very
      straightforward reasons: The heavier the vehicle, the more it chews up the
      roads, endangers pedestrians and smaller vehicles, and makes noise.

      This isn't an arbitrary weight limit. 6,000 pounds has long been a
      recognized dividing line between light and heavy trucks. (For example, the
      Clean Air Act defines "heavy duty vehicle" as a truck with a gross vehicle
      weight "in excess of six thousand pounds.")

      But local officials either don't realize they've banned big SUVs, or they're
      hoping no one will make a stink. For example, San Francisco and Los Angeles
      ban 6K vehicles on numerous streets (including one of San Francisco's main
      tourist draws, the famously twisty Lombard Street). One L.A. city council
      member, Janice Hahn (the sister of L.A. Mayor James Hahn), recently proposed
      that fines for breaking this law be hiked from $50 for a first offense and
      $100 for a second to $250 and $1,000, respectively. Hahn told me her
      district, near L.A.'s huge port complex, is plagued by trucks cutting
      through residential streets.

      When I informed Hahn that all the big SUVs also break the 6K barrier, she
      seemed surprised. "That's interesting," she said.

      I asked if she thought the ban should be enforced against them. She answered
      bluntly: "I don't favor that." Even for 10,000 pound Hummers? "I have my
      own issues with Hummers and SUVs, but this was not the intent of this
      ordinance."

      She's right-it wasn't the intent. But that's because these weight limits
      generally predate the 1990s SUV craze that lured suburbanites out of their
      lighter sedans and minivans. It's the vehicles that have changed, not the
      law. These ordinances remain on the books and they're not obscure. They're
      clearly marked on signs in many California cities. In fact, three of L.A.'s
      affluent neighborhoods have the signs almost everywhere you look.

      In Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, and Pasadena, vehicles over 3 tons are
      prohibited on every street unless specifically allowed. (Click here for a
      caveat about Beverly Hills.) The exemptions are a handful of larger roads
      meant to be used as truck routes.

      That's right-every single residential street.

      It probably won't shock you to learn that Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, and
      Pasadena are also home to a large number of heavy luxury SUVs.

      (Similar bans exist not only in cities across California but in other places
      around the country. Some examples I found online: Minneapolis and Edina,
      Minnesota; cities in Wisconsin including Wausau, Kenosha, and Brillion; and
      the Brooklyn Bridge, along with countless smaller bridges all over the
      nation. [Click here for more on other states.] The penalty in California is
      usually a fine.)

      However, as I can attest from standing on my front porch, prosecution of the
      Golden State's ban on big SUVs isn't what you'd call robust. In fact, it's a
      contender for the least enforced traffic regulation in America. Since
      realizing the connection between weight limits and SUVs, I've noticed
      streets all over the L.A. area-including major ones like Wilshire Boulevard
      in Santa Monica and Sunset Boulevard in Brentwood-where the drivers of metal
      monsters thunder past clearly posted 6K limit signs without a glance. "I
      would be surprised if it's routinely enforced against SUVs," Santa Monica's
      transportation planning manager, Lucy Dyke, told me.

      And don't expect to see stickers on new SUVs with warnings like "CAUTION:
      This Vehicle May Be Illegal On Many California Roads." At a GM dealership in
      Santa Monica, I asked a salesman (who declined to give his name) whether he
      informs buyers that the Tahoes and Suburbans he's selling them are banned on
      most streets in the city. "I'm not aware of it," he said.

      I suspect the biggest impediment to enforcing these bans is political
      will-SUVs are wildly popular, and it will take brave city and state
      officials to challenge the right of residents to use their own streets. (Of
      course, like a FedEx truck, heavy SUVs are allowed to use local roads for a
      few blocks if they have business there-like going to or from a house. But in
      general, they're supposed to take the shortest possible path between
      designated truck routes.)

      Still, some proponents of heavy SUVs will argue that these weight limits are
      outdated or that they should apply only to registered commercial vehicles.
      Nonsense.

      Six-thousand pounds does the same damage to roads (not to mention
      pedestrians) that it did before the SUV craze. I don't know about your
      state, but California's ongoing budget crisis doesn't exactly leave cash to
      burn for road repair. (California's Legislative Analyst's Office estimates
      the average L.A. driver pays $700 a year in vehicle repairs because of
      crummy roads.) Yet despite the increased road wear their vehicles cause,
      heavy SUV owners can take tax breaks that mean they pony up much less to the
      tax system that funds street maintenance.

      And frankly, a lot of these heavy SUVs are commercial vehicles by any fair
      definition. Remember that those owners who take the federal and state tax
      breaks are declaring they use their vehicles mostly or entirely for work.
      Often they're doctors, real estate agents, or small business owners. If
      California and the feds are willing to write off SUVs as work vehicles, why
      shouldn't the state also regulate them as work vehicles?

      As it stands now, big-SUV drivers have it both ways: They use their
      trucklike status when it benefits them, yet they ignore the more onerous
      restrictions that "real" truck drivers face.

      I think the Golden State has stumbled on a way to end this hypocrisy, and
      the rest of the country should take notice. Six-thousand pounds is a
      reasonable and established dividing line between passenger vehicles and
      trucks. (I even think it's an instinctual dividing line between SUVs that
      seem large, like the Ford Explorer, and those that seem absurdly large, like
      the Ford Expedition.)

      Why not classify SUVs under 3 tons as passenger cars and regulate them
      accordingly? Make them meet car gas mileage and safety standards, and let
      them drive anywhere cars can drive.

      For vehicles over 6K, classify them as trucks, pure and simple. Let their
      drivers use more gas, roll over more often if they want, and take tax
      breaks. And ban them from residential streets. Make them stick to the truck
      routes, including truck lanes on highways. (Heck, maybe even require a truck
      driver's license to pilot one.)

      California cities can start by enforcing their current 6K bans, or at the
      very least making it clear they apply to SUVs. Just as most of us
      instinctively check our speed when we drive by a police car, these luxury
      truckers should think twice about cruising illegally down Wilshire past a
      Santa Monica cop. If a few Tahoe owners got slapped with tickets for driving
      while overweight, the rest of them might actually start learning where their
      vehicles are legal.

      ******

      Update, Aug. 5, 2004: A number of readers have written in to take issue with
      my use of the gross vehicle weight rating of SUVs as the criterion for
      whether they violate a 6,000-pound weight limit. While I understand (and
      have already addressed) their point of view, let me elaborate.

      Their argument just highlights the ongoing hypocrisy that surrounds big SUV
      ownership. The GVWR is the manufacturer's estimate of the vehicle's curb
      weight, or unloaded weight, plus its maximum payload capacity including
      passengers and cargo. A number of big SUVs, including the Toyota Sequoia and
      the Lincoln Navigator, straddle the 3-ton line: Their curb weights are under
      6K, but their GVWRs are over (although in the case of the four-wheel-drive
      Navigator, the curb weight is 5,995 lbs.).

      However, those who take the federal and state tax breaks for their heavy
      SUVs are happy to accept the GVWR as their vehicle's official weight. After
      all, they must be over 6K to get the write-off. Yet now they're arguing that
      the actual weight of the vehicle as it rides along California streets
      may-may-be slightly under 6K. Since the weight at any given time could
      depend on how many bags of groceries are in the back, and very few
      residential streets have their own scales, we will never know. (Of course,
      this isn't an issue for the Hummer and some other vehicles, which break the
      6K barrier by any measure.)

      In other words, owners say their SUVs are over 6K when it benefits them and
      under 6K when it burdens them.

      Here's my solution: Pick a number and stick with it. If owners of heavy SUVs
      prefer to use the lower curb weight, fine with me. I won't squawk about them
      cruising down streets with 6K limits, as long as the feds make them
      ineligible for 6K tax breaks. But if they want to hold onto their
      write-offs, and the ability to claim them using the GVWR, they shouldn't
      turn around and argue the GVWR doesn't apply in other governmental contexts
      as well.

      Andy Bowers is a Slate senior editor.
    • Joe Astuccio II
      I think the saying goes you can t have it both ways . Id love to see this enforced!!! Alll the SUV owners balling their eyes out about how they have to go
      Message 2 of 2 , Aug 10, 2004
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        I think the saying goes "you can't have it both ways".
        Id love to see this enforced!!! Alll the SUV owners
        balling their eyes out about how they have to go the
        long way and how much extra gas that uses in their
        guzzlers DUH. This law was in place at the time of
        purchase and has a very practical purpose, to preserve
        our residential roads from needing repairs more often.
        I am gonna be watching to see if anything comes of
        this.

        have a great day
        Joe
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