The UK government’s most senior transport adviser reportedly wants motorists to face tough financial penalties for the privilege of using four-wheel-drive vehicles (SUVs) in towns and cities.

The Sunday Times said Professor David Begg believes 4×4 drivers should be forced to pay higher car tax in urban areas and face a premium on the London congestion charge.

Begg, the chairman of the Commission for Integrated Transport reportedly branded such motorists “irresponsible” at the weekend – he claimed the vehicles created high levels of pollution and threatened the safety of other road users.

The newspaper said his comments are part of a growing backlash against the use of bulky 4x4s on urban roads – sales of the vehicles have more than doubled in Britain over the past decade.

In France, buyers of 4x4s face a higher “green” purchase tax from next year and councillors in Paris have proposed banning them from the capital, the Sunday Times noted.

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Ken Livingstone, the mayor of London, recently described 4×4 drivers, including the thousands of parents who use the vehicles for the school run, as “complete idiots”, the paper added.

“Four-by-four vehicles are simply not designed for driving in urban areas and to do so is irresponsible,” Begg reportedly said.

“If people want to cause damage to the environment, create congestion and continue to threaten the safety of other road users by driving these vehicles around, then they should be made to pay for it. In conditions such as London’s congestion charging zone, for example, 4×4 drivers should pay more than drivers of normal vehicles.”

The Sunday Times said Begg’s proposals on 4x4s have been welcomed by green groups and road safety campaigners – Green members of the Scottish parliament want off-roaders to be charged up to twice as much as other cars under a planned congestion charging scheme in Edinburgh.

But the motor industry reportedly said 4×4 drivers are already heavily taxed and often buy the vehicles because they afford greater protection in a crash. Sales of 4x4s, once largely the preserve of farmers, have soared from 71,103 in 1994 to 159,144 last year, accounting for more than 6% of the new car market.

The Sunday Times said critics claim city dwellers increasingly see the vehicles as status symbols; a recent study found that only one in eight 4×4 owners had driven off-road.