21 February 2012 – Two recent articles including a review of a new Canadian book highlight some of the destructive impact of cars:

  • Congestion. This puts a handbrake on the Australian economy, and chokes the movement of goods and people, effectively costing an estimated $9 billion in 2005
  • Deaths/injuries. Worldwide, 1.2 – 5 million people are killed annually. Australia recorded 1370 deaths and 32,500 serious accidents in 2010.  In no other area of social life are such high rates of death and injury tolerated
  • Health and social costs of car-dependence. These include inactivity and obesity and premature death from car-generated air pollution
  • Social exclusion of non-drivers from spaces designed for automobiles. Many areas of society are set up for people with cars, and exclude those without one (the aged, people under 18, those on low incomes or with mobility impairment)
  • Urban space – cars’ dominance of urban space. When stationary, automobiles consume valuable land space, both public (that could be used for growing food or green space in urban areas) and private for garages and parking lots. Inner-city public streets are clogged by parked cars. Automobiles also consume space in the form of roads and highways. Half of all US urban space is devoted to car use. In London it’s a quarter and in Sydney it’s about a third.
  • Private cars (whether “green” or not) also disenfranchise other forms of mobility such as cycling and walking. In many roads in Sydney it’s dangerous to ride because of road design and road rage. Pedestrians, for the most part, are treated at best as second-class citizens.

From The Conversation, by Catherine Simpson, senior lecturer in science and communication at Macquarie University, and a partner of co-founder of carshare company Goget:

  • Deaths: 40,000 people in the US die from car accidents each year
  • Traffic congestion creates stress and induces aggression
  • Toxic pollutants from tailpipe and particulate matter from tyre rubber (treated with dozens of carcinogens, neurotoxins and heavy metals) create health havoc from respiratory disease to cancer. Cars also “make you fat”, with all the attendant diseases of obesity.
  • GDP. The car is economically wasteful, chewing up 20 per cent of GDP in the US (compared with 9 per cent in Japan with its mass transport system) and up to one third of the working life of the average US citizen.
  • Inefficiency. Only 30 per cent of a car’s petrol is turned into actual motion to carry just 10 per cent of its weight, so only “3 per cent of the fuel’s energy actually moves what needs to be moved”.

From a review by Phil Shannon, in Green Left Weekly of a new book, Stop Signs: Cars & Capitalism ­– On the Road to Economic, Social & Ecological Decay, By Bianca Mugenyi & Yves Engler, published by RED Publishing & Fernwood Publishing, 2011, 259 pages, $27.95 (pb)