Americans love cars (not me, obviously). It’s a one-way kind of love, though, because our cars don’t love us back. I grew up in lovely San Diego, where a car is a symbol of freedom, wealth, autonomy, success, and sex – not necessarily in that order. It’s also a necessity, since it is almost impossible to live without one. It’s the first big possession most Southern Californians get, and it’s the last they will give up. When you are too old, too drunk, or too crazy to drive, the State takes away your license, which is widely viewed as a form of house arrest. Retirees in their 90s would rather risk death on the roads (for themselves and others) than have to rely on any other form of transportation.
That’s because it is easier to live in a car than to have a house but no wheels. California, like most of the rest of the country, was built by and for cars. Even though the freeways are
woefully inadequate to deal with the expanding population, there’s no other viable alternative. Even people who bicycle (or surf) everywhere still must own a car. It’s impossible not to.
And that goes double for everywhere else (and triple for developing countries). If you don’t have a car in most of
the U.S. it’s because you’re destitute or the Unabomber. Or both. Gas is subsidized by my tax dollars, and public outrage is guaranteed to be provoked by high fuel prices. The gas crisis of the 1970’s caused national angst on a grand scale, helped bring down a president, and caused predictions of the end-of-times to ramp up in a way that wouldn’t happen again until The Year 2000. Cult leaders led their flocks to mountaintops to await the Mother Ship. When gas prices crept north of $4.00 in 2011, cable channels that were running
doomsday “documentaries” (typical premises: what if a tsunami hits Seattle? What if the moon collides with Los Angeles? What if an alien invasion detonates a volcano under Washington DC?) began adding shows with titles like “Gas-pocalypse” and “Mad Max: our fantasy or our future?” In these amusing confections, overpriced or insufficient gasoline causes riots to break out, paralyzes the National Guard, and leads to China buying Texas for two cents. Starvation on a massive scale ensues. Civilization, in short, ends.
On the other hand, I hate cars and all they stand for. Cars are bad. They are metal deathboxes on wheels. They prevent walking, they suck up huge amounts of energy to move tons of metal and plastic plus 16 ounces of milk from a minimart to your house. They divert public funds that would better be spent on urban transportation alternatives. And, they outright kill people by running over them. They are not your friend.
Let’s look at the facts. Everyone raise your hand if you know someone who has been in an airplane accident. No? Raise your hand if you know someone who has been in a car accident. That’s a lot of hands. In my immediate family, two cousins have died in car accidents. Most of us have been in fender-benders or worse, and we’re not alone. Cars are the number one killers of humans — even more than guns and drugs. Scary diseases from foreign climes
(Ebola from Africa, Zika from Brazil, Measles from Marin County) are laughably distant. Car crashes are the leading cause of death in the US, period. Someone dies every 15 minutes from one. That’s 37,000 people per year in the US, and that’s not counting more than 2 million who are seriously injured or disabled. Just for comparison, less than 500 people die in plane crashes worldwide.
Now that you’ve had a chance to ignore the numbers, let’s talk about other reasons to hate cars. Here’s the list.
- Anyone gets to drive them. Teenagers. Rage-filled steroid-pumping gym rats. Functionally blind ancient relics. The seriously sleep-deprived. Multi-tasking texters. Even people who don’t have licenses can get right in and start them up.
- It takes 300 feet to come to a complete stop if you’re going 60 mph. If, like most assholes, you’re going 70 mph, you’ll need 400 feet. Too bad you’re only 20 feet from that car in front of you.
- Since you never walk anywhere, your body will slowly atrophy.
- You have to park them when you’re not in them.
- They smell bad. Yes, even the new ones. That “new car aroma” you love so much is actually the off-gassing fumes leaking out of the plastic interior, and it’s making you lightheaded.
- Cars put you in a box and tie you to a road. You’ll never really experience a place if you only see it through a windshield.
So what’s the solution?
2. Build better communities.
3. Urban transport pods (the UK already has them.)
4. Bikes, scooters, dogsleds.