Even before last week's fatal crash, German road safety campaigners and some politicians had called for limits on heavy SUVs. They argued the vehicles were especially dangerous and disproportionately contributed to climate change.
Those calls amplified over the weekend, after the driver of a Porsche Macan veered onto a sidewalk late Friday. Struck and killed were a 3-year-old boy, his 64-year-old grandmother and two men — a 28-year-old Spaniard and a 29-year-old Briton.
"What's important at this point is to determine the cause of this terrible accident," Transport Ministry spokeswoman Simone Buser told reporters. "We won't participate in the political debate at this stage," she added.
Police are investigating whether a medical issue caused the 42-year-old driver to lose control of his SUV. He and two passengers were hospitalized. SUVs have become increasingly popular in Germany in recent years. The country's big automakers have tried to meet demand for the large, powerful vehicles.
According to industry estimates, SUVs are expected to make up a third of newly registered vehicles in Germany this year. A promotional video for the latest Porsche Macan model highlights the car's power and speed, using the slogan: "Give those behind you something to appreciate."
Oliver Krischer, a leading Green party lawmaker, said SUVs are taking up increasingly scarce space in cities. "They are a danger to pedestrians and cyclists," Krischer told Berlin daily newspaper Tagesspiegel. He suggested federal authorities should allow cities to set a size limit.
The campaign group Environmental Action Germany urged Chancellor Angela Merkel and the head of the country's automobile-makers association to oppose what it called the flood of "city tanks," and called for punitive taxes on cars emitting over 130 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometer.
But safety experts questioned whether SUVs pose a significantly bigger risk to other road users. Data from Germany's Federal Office for Statistics show more people died in crashes involving SUVs last year than in accidents involving medium-sized cars or smaller cars.
But accidents involving sports cars, large limousines or minivans were even more likely to result in deaths, according to government figures.