Car Hater

By Dan Bertolet August 4, 2010

A happy place for bike commuting

Allow me to predict my own demise. Or better yet, you can probably guess it. Because you see, I'm a bike commuter. I ride through downtown Seattle five days a week all year long. And I intend to continue using a bicycle for practical transportation as much as possible until I'm dead and buried or get so old I can't remember where I left my bike.

So the smart money is on my demise being delivered when a few thousand pounds of moving metal, plastic, glass, and rubber crushes my body against the pavement.

This is one reason I hate cars (but not the only one): They kill and maim an insanely high number of innocent people, and are a constant threat to those who are simply trying to exist peacefully on planet Earth. They are especially dangerous for children---in the U.S., car accidents are the leading cause of death among children. Every parent instinctively knows this and it is a relentless source of stress.

But check this out this amazing stat: A recent study found that "children die in traffic accidents in New York City at less than one third the national rate, due to New Yorkers’ high reliance on public transportation." Put another way, the average child in the U.S. is more than three times as likely to die in an auto accident than is a child living in New York City. Because people drive less in New York. Wow.

You might think that the evidence of how cars slaughter our children would be in itself a powerful motivation to create urban places that don't require incessant driving. But you would, of course, be wrong. Because most Americans don't think rationally when it comes to the ugly side of cars.

And that leads to another reason I hate cars: They bring out the worst in people. Something about being inside that isolating, protective cocoon has the power to transform otherwise calm, polite people into raging psychos. But even deeper than that, when we so willingly buy into a system that trivializes the value of human life, we are dehumanized.

If I do get hit, chances are it will happen because the person in control of that few-thousand-pound machine was being careless---in other words, not taking responsibility for engaging in an activity that seriously endangers other people. You know the standard excuse: "I didn't see him."  Oops.

It's truly remarkable how people who are normally safety-conscious and care about the well-being of others so often seem to disregard those predispositions when it comes to cars. Why are the laws so lenient and the driving so unskilled and sloppy? For example, piles of data demonstrate the risk of using cell phones while driving and we now have a law against it, but people still do it all the time.

It may well be that our brains are simply not wired to adequately handle the responsibility that comes with the power of technology like a car: It's just too intoxicating. Lewis Mumford, one of my all-time favorite thinkers, wrote that our culture's biggest challenge is to create “human beings capable of understanding their own nature sufficiently to control, and when necessary to suppress, the forces and mechanisms they have brought into existence.”

There's so much more car-hating fodder and so little blog bandwidth, but I can't stop myself from providing a condensed list: Air pollution, noise, toxic runoff from roads that is killing Puget Sound, fossil fuel dependence, greenhouse gas emissions, the massive expense of building and maintaining car infrastructure, the burdensome cost of car ownership, the loss of farmland, forests, and habitat to sprawl, the trashing of most American cities caused by the desire to accommodate cars everywhere, social isolation, the decline in health due to less walking.

Really people, what's not to hate?  Oh right, I forgot. They can go really fast.

SHOCKING FULL DISCLOSURE: My family owns a car and I drive it sometimes.
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