Why I'm a Car Hater...


I got to thinking about this when I read about two fatal auto crashes today in the AJC.  One was a pedestrian killed when crossing Roswell Rd in Sandy Springs earlier today and another was a crash in Milledgeville where two Georgia College freshmen from Gwinnett were killed.

First, let me tell you that cars are incredibly useful.. I have two.  I’m not getting rid of them.  I’ve owned 6 different cars in my life.  I liked them all and loved some of them.  We need them because we can’t function ‘normally’ without them.  But, the more I think about it, they all suck in ways that you don’t normally consider when you’re driving around.  Here’s why I hate cars:

  • Safety - They kill people.. they kill LOTS of people.  Driving a car on a daily basis is the most dangerous activity that most Americans regularly participate in.  Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for people aged 5-34 in the US.  Your odds of dying in a car crash in any given year are about 1:6500 (est.).  This equates to roughly a 1:83 lifetime chance of dying in a car crash.  Traffic fatalities vary greatly in a given year and usually range from 30k to 40k.  There were 30,797 in 2009.  Fortunately, US fatality rates have been declining in recent years.  Now, we’re all going to die but traffic fatalities are frustrating because most are preventable in some way.  My Solution: Build places that don’t rely on the car to function.
  • Cost - Car related costs account for around 20% of most American families’ expenses.  That’s a lot of money to spend on a depreciating asset.  It does get you around but so do your two feet.  The average car costs about $8,000 per year to own and operate.  Most families own two.  So, let’s just say most families have one nicer car and one older car and conservatively call it $12,000 per year.  Let’s start the counter at the age of 25 and say we own a car through our 75th year.  That’s $600,000 in money that could be significantly reduced by cutting back on car ownership.  That’s not chump change.  Neither is this, the US spent $959.9B on road construction and maintenance in the 12 mos ending July 2011.  That’s almost a Trillion.  Let’s not forget the estimated lifetime medical costs from serious auto injuries.  This totaled roughly $99B in 2009, third behind cancer and heart disease.  That’s just the crashes that occurred in 2009!!!  That a Trillion in 10 years.  These are all budget busters.  My Solution: Build places that don’t rely on the car to function. 
  • Health - Aside from safety, they are a health hazard.  Carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxides all pose health hazards.  Additionally, car pollutants combine to form ozone which influences asthma, most notably in children.  We also need to consider the amount of time people sit on their rears commuting burning virtually no calories.  It’s no coincidence that as our sprawling development pattern has permeated the countryside, our waistlines have sprawled out in a highly correlated direction.  Finally, let’s not forget the hundreds of thousands of serious injuries that are sustained in car crashes.  These are all REAL problems that could be mitigated.  My Solution: Build places that don’t rely on the car to function.
  • Sanity - Just watch drivers.  People get crazy when they get behind the wheel.  Observe yourself and you might find that you act differently too.  How do you react when a car suddenly gets in front of you on a road versus when a person suddenly gets in front of you on a sidewalk?  The car is a bubble that creates distance and mutes communication.  Speeds beyond 20mph take humans beyond speeds that we have evolved to function at.  This takes us into an environment that we aren’t as equipped to function in.  We don’t know how to react and we have no real way to communicate and thus we resort to anger or conflict.  We need to stop the insanity.  My Solution: Build places that don’t rely on the car to function.

To dive into these concepts in more depth, check out the book Traffic by Tom Vanderbilt.  It should be required reading for everyone on the road.  There are also some good facts on the CDC’s Motor Vehicle Safety page as well.

If we build places that don’t rely on the car to function, we’ll have a lot more good people around for a lot longer.  We need to stand up against widening roads, building unnecessary roads and decreasing connectivity.  Our congestion problems can be solved by getting people out of their cars, not by encouraging the same behavior that causes the congestion.  This will in turn save thousands of lives.

This post is in memory of all my family and friends who have died in car crashes.