The High Price of Car Culture


In the summer of 2012 we were staying on the roof because it was hot inside. Somebody had this weird eye allergy and it looked worrisome. So I took him to the local hospital. He ended up being fine but on the way to the hospital I was speeding because I was still worried about his condition and it was late in the night and I was tired. Unfortunately I got flashed by one of those Big Brotherish, Robot Speeding Ticket machines.

A former boss once had a bumper sticker on her car: REALITY IS WHEN IT HAPPENS TO YOU. You have to think about that for moment and consider what it really means. Sort of like I think when the Chinese might have said that old Chinese Proverb to one another: “May you live in interesting times.”

We don’t have to use our imagination much to consider the sudden and shocking way that our lives can be devastated and even destroyed by a single simple mistake in judgement when driving. To imagine the shattering glass, metal, plastic and human bodies too. Suddenly two separate autonomous bodies merge as one in a violent crash of high speed metal and plastic crashing, smashing and literally exploding into steaming heaping hulk of destruction. In the really bad accidents – that’s when the crying and screaming starts if people are still alive or conscious – that is. At least with a gun, the violence is much cleaner and clear cut.

For the ticket…I ended up pleading guilty and had to do one of those driver training courses online. In this case there definitely was a silver lining to getting that ticket. What it reminded me of is the reality that as we drive our cars, we have a huge amount of responsibility just like when we use or own a gun. A car is a deadly weapon just like a gun and it can inflict great damage on others if used in a reckless or irresponsible way.

I do think many times we do forget this reality of us as we slide gracefully into our car and start the engine that we are turning on a and getting ready to drive a deadly weapon that usually weighs a ton or more…For as as we step into the car we usually step into complacent mode.

The care has become our savior. Its there dependably and reliably to us to get to where we need to go and with the ever more powerful engines, at very rapid speeds and with great efficiency. It is the job of a army of workers and experts to ensure that the system works and that we can travel rapidly and gracefully through the travel bottleneck to the place of our destination. Its not about the quality of the experience its about the raw power of throughput – to get to your destination and fast! Build more oil wells, pipelines, freeways, electronic smart grids, more high horsepower engines, etc but the freeway bottleneck must be confronted at all costs.

Possibly rude and reckless driving has increased as people lose sight of the car as a powerful and potentially dangerous, deadly tool – in their rush to get ahead of a world that may seem to them as going too fast. So their rudeness – we should not take personally – its a reflection of their sense of being losers and the urgency that if they don’t move quickly enough, they won’t ever be able to catch up – not ever! For what is success anyhow but keeping ahead of a world that constantly seems to be trying to get ahead of us. If some jerk gets in our way and tries to slow us, we flip them off and bare our teeth.

The reality is that out of all the countries of the world the USA is the undisputed capital of Car Culture. There are now over 215 million cars in America and few countries put as much as love and energy into the cars they drive.

The dark side to car use is not just in the planet killing pollution released through the carbon based fossil fuels burned to sustain car use in America and other countries that emulate the USA lifestyle. Its not just about the lost time spent in cars that people could have spent on culture, art, and time with their friends and family. It also about the reality that every year there are staggering 5.8 million crashes with an economic cost of this is 230 billion dollars. A fatal crash can cost 500,000 dollars. But the real cost is the loss of life. Every year 37,000 people die every year from car wrecks a number much higher than the total number of murders and suicides. 1/3 (nearly 2 million casualties every years) of all crashes involve injury or death.

The good news is that due to safety measures like metal frames designed to absorb energy and air bags have dramatically reduced the death rates. Yet the reality is as I get ready to travel across the country, I will taking a responsibility to drive my vehicle in a competent way so that i do not risk my life or those of others who I share the highway with.

I do think my time at Arcosanti was very good and positive in that it gave me a place where I did not have to constantly wonder: is this the day when I finally get into a tragic car accident?

Let us hope and be inspired by the possibility that a future for humanity may exist and can be attainable that will see the burden of car culture lifted from upon. From this liberation of the car burden I see much potential for people to live freer, more healthy and less traumatic lives.

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