Skip to main content

The big-car problem is well documented but, on average, Canadians drive the largest and second-heaviest set of vehicles in the world, according to the International Energy Agency.MIKE BLAKE/Reuters

Modern pickup trucks and mega SUVs have become so enormous they’re caricatures of themselves, towering over other traffic. The sheer size of these huge machines is bad for pedestrian safety, the environment and our streets and bridges, prompting one U.S. jurisdiction to propose making drivers who buy these road hogs pay extra for the privilege. Canadian provinces should take note.

While Ontario recently scrapped vehicle registration fees altogether, Washington’s city council proposed increasing registration fees for vehicles based on weight. The heaviest ones, those weighing more than 2,722 kilograms, would cost drivers US$500 in annual registration fees. The second-heaviest vehicle category (2,276 to 2,722 kilograms) – which includes machines like the Cadillac Escalade, Mercedes-Benz G-Class, BMW X7 and some Ford F-150s – would cost US$250 a year to register. Owning a Honda Civic or any vehicle that weighs less than 1,587 kilograms would continue to cost US$72 a year.

New Brunswick already uses a similar weight-based registration system, albeit one that doesn’t cost drivers of big vehicles quite as much.

“You can’t ban sales of these things, but you can make them pay their own way,” Mary Cheh, the council member who proposed the increase, told Bloomberg. The program is expected to raise US$40-million over five years. It’s not much, but it could fix a lot of potholes. (By contrast, Ontario’s scrapping of registration fees will cost $1.1-billion a year in lost revenue.)

Across Canada, more provinces could easily institute weight-based registration fees. They should vary depending on where a vehicle is registered too. In rural areas, where parking is plentiful and cyclists are rare, perhaps there’s less need to deter big vehicles and therefore no need for additional fees. But if you’re trying to register a gargantuan SUV, pickup or maybe even a palatial full-size sedan in a city or nearby suburb – areas where big vehicles cause the most havoc and headaches – the weight-based fees could nudge drivers to consider something slightly smaller.

It’s more fair than charging a congestion fee – a flat rate to drive into a city’s core – which hits people with lower incomes hardest. A weight-based fee hits only those who can afford a large vehicle in the first place.

There should be exemptions for drivers who have to use a pickup or van for work. Although, I bet most of the luxurious pickups you see parked in a city have never so much as gotten their beds dirty. The auto industry calls these leather-stuffed machines “lifestyle trucks,” and they’re absolute cash cows for their manufacturers.

To avoid discouraging the adoption of electric vehicles – whose battery packs add significant weight – Cheh proposed EVs get a weight credit to offset the batteries’ added heft. That way, registration fees for an electric pickup like the F-150 Lightning should be at least on par with gas-powered trucks.

Paying an extra, say, $500 a year to drive a big pickup or enormous SUV in a city is a small price to pay and would signal to consumers that big vehicles come with some punitive costs.

Large, heavy vehicles typically guzzle more gas, spew more pollution, put more wear and tear on roads, parking lots and bridges, take up more space on already overcrowded streets and parking lots, and are more likely to kill pedestrians and cyclists in the event of a collision.

Fresh research continues shedding light on the precise dangers associated with large vehicles. “SUVs, pickups, vans and minivans are substantially more likely than cars to hit pedestrians when making turns,” according to a new study by the independent U.S. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The reason, the authors suggest, is because larger vehicles have bigger blind spots. (Drivers didn’t need a study to tell them that.)

The big-car problem is well documented but, on average, Canadians drive the largest and second-heaviest set of vehicles in the world, according to the International Energy Agency. Making matters worse is the fact pickups keep getting bigger. Consumer Reports analysis of industry data “shows that the hood height of passenger trucks has increased by an average of at least 11 per cent since 2000 and that new pickups grew 24 per cent heavier on average from 2000 to 2018.”

Drivers accustomed to rolling around in gargantuan vehicles will likely be fuming at the thought of any policy that makes their already expensive machines even more costly. I think the new Jeep Gladiator pickup is cool too, and I love the new full-size Range Rover SUV. I get the appeal. If I lived in the countryside, maybe I’d buy a Gladiator too, but in downtown Toronto, we’ve run out of space.

A modest weight-based registration fee isn’t going to fix our national addiction to big vehicles. Working in combination with other existing policies, however, like tighter fuel economy standards, carbon pricing and gas-guzzler taxes, it could help get big vehicles out of urban areas where they wreak all kinds of havoc.

Shopping for a new car? Check out the new Globe Drive Build and Price Tool to see the latest discounts, rebates and rates on new cars, trucks and SUVs. Click here to get your price.