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‘Attention! Your SUV kills’: Guerilla climate activists target cars overnight in Brussels

Tyre Extinguishers group, which is active in Ireland, aims to make SUV ownership ‘impossible’ in urban areas

Earlier this month, drivers of SUVs in the swanky Brussels district of Ixelles woke up to discover that their cars were undrivable: the tyres had been deflated by a guerrilla group of activists who hit the area overnight.

Leaflets were left on their windscreens explaining the action of the group, which goes by the name Tyre Extinguishers.

“Attention! Your SUV kills,” the leaflets read. “Don’t take it personally. It’s not you, it’s your car.”

In response to questions from The Irish Times, a representative described Tyre Extinguishers as a decentralised campaign with more than 100 active groups worldwide that aim to make 4x4 ownership “impossible” in urban areas.


“We are pedestrians, cyclists and road users who are tired of nearly being killed by huge cars. It’s clear these vehicles are pure vanity and they must go,” a representative of the group said.

The targeting of the hefty sports utility vehicles, which have become a common sight on the narrow streets of Brussels where they compete for space with cyclists and pedestrians, galvanised a debate about cars and urban design that has divided the Belgian capital.

The city is in the middle of implementing a plan to overhaul its car-choked image and roll back years of favourable policies towards drivers to follow in the footsteps of Paris and reclaim more car-free space.

The activists hit Rue Henri Marichal, according to police – a thin residential street where parked cars line both sides of the road. Several dozen cars were struck.

“We have opened an investigation and we are going to write a report for each vehicle,” police spokesman Robin De Becker told local media.

The Tyre Extinguishers claim to have deflated the tyres of 10,000 vehicles worldwide and post instructions on their websites about how to commit the guerrilla action.

They advise followers to target “posh” areas and “work under cover of darkness”, explaining how to use a lentil to take the cars out of action. They instruct people not to hit vehicles belonging to disabled people or traders, minibuses, or cars of a normal size.

They have hit Ireland too: the group claims to have “disabled” a dozen SUVs in South Dublin in December and 23 in Navan in January.

At the heart of their reasoning is that SUVs pollute more than smaller cars – so much so that in 2022 the reduction of carbon emissions caused by the increase in electric cars was cancelled out by the rise in popularity of SUVs, according to a study by the International Energy Agency (IEA).

“The shift towards heavier and less fuel-efficient conventional vehicles increases growth in both oil demand and CO2 emissions,” the IEA report read, stating that their growing popularity in the United States, India, and Europe saw SUVs account for 46 per cent of global car sales.

In Brussels, residents got a taste of car-free streets during the pandemic as commuting from neighbouring regions dropped, and demands grew for this to become the status quo. Crowds of cyclists, skateboarders and rollerbladers took over the roads in mass “roller bike parades” on Friday evenings throughout the summer.

In July, the city council implemented a mobility plan called Good Move, which diverted cars away from the city centre.

It provoked outrage from some drivers as well as business-owners hit by high energy costs who said the biggest spenders were customers who travelled in from the suburbs by car.

But it has proved popular with other residents, and a review by Brussels’ city council in November found that visitor numbers to the city centre had increased.

“We can’t blame Good Move for everything, but neither can we say that everything went well with Good Move,” the council’s economic affairs chief Fabian Maingain told local media, acknowledging there had been traffic congestion as road tunnels were overhauled due to the plan.

“I will continue to work to adjust the plan where necessary.”

Air pollution has continued to be a problem: at one point over the winter, the city was forced to introduce an emergency blanket speed reduction and to make all public transport free, as levels of fine dust exceeded a warning threshold.

Those in favour of a shift away from cars point to the lopsidedness of vehicle ownership.

Only a quarter of families who live in the affected central Pentagon area own a car, according to Brussels statistics office Bisa, meaning much of the traffic is caused by people driving in from elsewhere. Car ownership is also closely correlated with higher wealth.

The Tyre Extinguishers told The Irish Times they wanted “pollution levies to tax SUVs out of existence” and have “free, comprehensive public transport”. The group vowed to continue their campaign “until politicians make this a reality”.

“Once cities go car-free, it’s so popular that it’s never reversed,” a Tyre Extinguishers representative said.

“Car-shaggers talk tough, send us death threats, but nobody can guard their big car 24/7. Unless someone is going to stay up all night every night drinking coffee and waiting for us, we will not be caught.”

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary is Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times