The problem with cars is not limited to their emissions. Obviously, electric cars are better than diesel or petrol-driven cars. But the problem with cars goes far beyond the poisons they emit, or their effect on global heating. They are weapons that directly kill and maim countless more people than terrorists or natural disasters — and that’s only the tip of the iceberg. They diminish our lives in so many other ways …
Cars imprison children. Children are no longer able to play in most streets, or even make their own way to school on foot or by bike — mostly, because of cars. So every weekday, millions of terrified parents lock their children up in cars for the run to school and back. Then they lock them up in the house or garden during evenings and weekends — if they are not delivering them into the hands of activities organisers or care workers. Millions don’t have play-sized gardens or the means to imprison their children with third-party ‘supervisors’.
Cars turn us into fat blobs. If you ever spend time in a Dutch city, you should notice that there’s far fewer fat people. It’s really not because the entire nation is on a diet. It’s because very few Dutch people get into a car to make short trips to the shops, work, entertainment or leisure.
Cars destroy communities. Partly, because major roads cut city neighbourhoods into unsustainable pieces. Partly, because cars take people away from their neighbourhoods for work and leisure. But mostly, because car use drastically reduces our chance encounters and interactions with the people around us — reducing our tolerance of difference and heightening our fear/hatred of others.
Cars damage social life. Sure, they take us to the pub, on visits, on holidays, etc, but how many of those things can’t be done better by combinations of walking, biking or public transport? Can you really drive safely while fully interacting with your mates, children, parents and spouses? There’s no need to give so much attention to the road on a train, on a bus, on foot, or even on a bike — in proper cycle lanes. Then you can drink and relax more when you get where you’re going!
Cars damage our mental health. Real-world driving stresses most people, most of the time — even the most ardent petrol-head. Perhaps, especially petrol-heads. Because, seriously, how much of our driving is done on open roads, unbothered by other drivers, pedestrians, cyclists, buses, caravans, traffic lights, etc? Some of the calmest people I know turn into raging beasts when driving in the presence of other road users.
Cars steal our time. Car commuting and congestion rob families of time together. And cars don’t even get us to places quickly. Because most journeys are short and within cities, where bikes are usually faster — even with Britain’s pathetic cycling infrastructure.
Cars steal our money. Walking costs nothing. A bike for life costs less than a few months of car loan interest, or the annual insurance and licensing. When you really need a car, just hire or share one — to do something that’s just a bit too inconvenient by other means. It’s trivially easy and available in most places, most of the time — and it’ll cost a fraction of what it does to run your own car.
Cars have their place. None of the above means that I believe people shouldn’t own or use cars. It’s just that we would all be better off if fewer people owned cars and car users drove less often. So the place for cars is, usually, sitting somewhere waiting for their next user. Seriously, how many hours do most people spend driving in a average day? Practically, none between midnight and 7am — and rarely more than one between 7pm and midnight.
Reduce car dependency — don’t merely electrify it.