Time for a real war on cars

Cars directly kill and hurt more people every year than most diseases

David SuzukiVANCOUVER, BC, Apr 16, 2014/ Troy Media/ – In railing against everything from bike lanes to transit spending, pundits and politicians often raise the spectre of a “war on cars.” Of course, there is no war on cars – but there should be.

Cars directly kill and hurt more people every year than most diseases, resulting in 1.5 million deaths and 78 million injuries needing medical care, according to the World Bank. Road injury is the eighth leading cause of death worldwide. Pollution from cars also causes acute and chronic health problems that often result in premature death – from heart disease and stroke to respiratory illness and lung cancer.

Environmental impacts of cars are also well-known and wide-ranging, including climate change, smog and oily run-off from roads, not to mention the green space sacrificed for infrastructure to sell, drive, fuel and park them. Despite fuel-efficiency improvements, emissions from vehicles have more than doubled since 1970, and will increase with rising car demand in countries like China, India and Brazil, according to the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report.

Because many people, especially North Americans, can’t conceive of a world without cars for everyone, we overlook major problems caused by our private automobile obsession. We’re rightly outraged when a company like General Motors ignores faulty ignition switches in some of its vehicles, thought to have caused 13 deaths over 13 years. The massive recall that followed was justified and necessary. But as a headline on Treehugger’s website argues, “It’s time for a bigger recall of a seriously defective product: The Car.”

The article continues, “Since we can’t recall every car all at once and redesign the entire country, there are at least things we can do to make it less bad. Significantly reduce speed limits. Make drivers pay the full cost of infrastructure construction and maintenance through the gas tax. Build the cost of medical care for those millions of injured by cars into the price of gas. Invest in walkable cities and alternative forms of transport.”

Seattle newsweekly The Stranger, only somewhat tongue-in-cheek, created a 2011 manifesto for a real war on cars. “We demand that car drivers pay their own way, bearing the full cost of the automobile-petroleum-industrial complex that has depleted our environment, strangled our cities, and drawn our nation into foreign wars,” it says. “Reinstate the progressive motor vehicle excise tax, hike the gas tax, and toll every freeway, bridge, and neighborhood street until the true cost of driving lies as heavy and noxious as our smog-laden air.”

As Treehugger notes, we can’t shift from car-centric societies overnight. And until we find ways to better design our urban areas, many people will continue to rely on cars. After all, in the “developed” world, and increasingly in the developing world, we privilege private automobiles when creating infrastructure, often at the expense of what we need for public transit, walking and cycling.

Some even claim automobile and oil companies bought and dismantled streetcar and urban rail lines from the mid-1930s to the 1950s to sell more cars and oil. Fuel efficiency wasn’t a concern because, before pollution and climate change impacts were known, gas sale profits were a priority. Many factors were involved in the development of car culture, but we now find ourselves in an era when much of our oil is burned to propel mostly single users in inefficient vehicles.

Even with today’s improved fuel standards, only about 15 per cent of the energy from each litre of fuel burned is used to move the vehicle, which typically weighs 10 to 20 times more than the passenger(s) it carries. That translates to about a 1 per cent efficiency to move those passengers.

Although we can’t stop using cars altogether, we can curtail their damage to people and the environment. We can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by cutting back on car use, choosing fuel-efficient vehicles, joining a car pool or sharing program and reducing speed. At the policy level, we need increased investment in public transit and cycling and pedestrian infrastructure, stronger fuel-efficiency standards, reduced speed limits, higher gas taxes and human-centric urban design.

Besides combatting pollution and climate change, reduced dependency on private automobiles will lead to healthier people, fewer deaths and injuries and livable cities with happier citizens. And that’s worth fighting for!

Dr. David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author, and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation.

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0 Responses to "Time for a real war on cars"

  1. Get Real David   April 16, 2014 at 12:58 pm

    Let David walk, I’ll continue to drive thanks. David forget about the economic perspective of owning a car and how it rapidly allowed our society to expand our reach. Sorry David cars are not disappearing anytime son buddy.

  2. neverwannabeknown   April 16, 2014 at 1:52 pm

    Get Real David  You may be correct, however there are points made in the article that can lessen our impact of using vehicles.  One paragraph in particular caught my attention with the remarks of ‘reduce speed limits’, and pay more for what we are doing through gas tax and health taxes.  Building our infrastructure so that we can reduce the need for people to use cars. 
    The changes can be brought on slowly and we can make a difference.  I use an old 4×4 for my daily driving because it’s the only vehicle I have.  I don’t want to give it up.  A possible fix is for me not to drive it as much – rely on public transit for going to and from work and other daily tasks.  This is a problem for me because I work where no public transit goes…so infrastructure changes would make a difference in my case (and many others I would think).  
    Instead of reacting by saying cars aren’t going away, why not try some alternatives to reduce our use of them?

  3. KevinOConnor1   April 16, 2014 at 3:27 pm

    The battle against cars has already been fought and won , in downtown toronto. 
    You have a car in down town ? Just walk away … you’re not getting it out of the down town area. Ever. 
      Or so my sister (who lives in toronto) tells me. 
       Seriously , dudes. Busses, trains , and electric bycicles are the way to go.  There isn’t any business case for a personal transport vehical that costs 20 000 $ and needs to be replaced every five years.

  4. Ben   April 17, 2014 at 8:40 am

    This is the same David Suzuki that drives a bright yellow Hummer H2 with vanity plates?  Hypocrite.

  5. Max_bolan   April 17, 2014 at 8:49 am

    As soon as you provide me with a better vehicle that can get me to your so called walk about city, I’ll buy one.
    You think helping decrease the death rate on the roads will help your cities?. I got one don’t like cities and will never live in one. It’s cities that cause most of the pollution we generate.
    If we save more lives then the cities just get bigger and dirtier. We pave over great farm lands to built more homes cities.
    I believe e need to decrease the population not increase.
    I’ll buy an electric car when the money hungry car company s start selling them at the real cost.
    You people who are set up in your city condos never having to work in remote areas, can stop telling us what we should be passing in taxes as the city s are the biggest tax waters.

  6. Keep It Real People   April 17, 2014 at 8:51 am

    According to the Canadian Taxpayers Foundation Canadians paid $21.5 Billion (yes with a B) in combined taxes on fuel. This does not even account for the royalties, or income taxes paid by those corporations and individuals in the oil and gas industry.
    When we talk about transportation issues we can’t leave out the transport of goods. Delivery trucks, trains, and ships aren’t fuelled by love and good intentions after all.
    If we are going to have an honest discussion about the issue we should look at both sides.
    How much of infrastructure spending can be assigned fairly to motorists? I know I ride my bicycle on roads all the time so how much is that worth per km travelled.
    If David is proposing getting rid of cars, it is more than fair to ask him to lead the way. I challenge him to never again step foot in an automobile! That includes taxis and cars on the way to his paid speaking engagements. We should also keep in mind that David has made millions of dollars spouting these one sided arguments, so of course he has a huge bias and conflict of interest.

  7. Funny   April 17, 2014 at 9:44 am

    Shall we withhold the ambulance next time you need it David?

  8. neverwannabeknown   April 17, 2014 at 10:17 am

    Max_bolan  I wish I was who ever you were talking about.  I’m not one of the people ‘set up’ in the condos.  I live in a city – yes.  I don’t want to.  It’s close to work.  I work at an airport.  The airport I work at has NO CITY TRANSIT SERVICE> ergo > I drive to work in my old rusty vehicle.  I also have farms within 20 min drive that we (the city dwellers) enjoy.  
    Your comment was nasty and impolite.  For  your info my friend, I came from a rural area.  Grew up in a rural area.  Lived most of my life in a rural area.  Would rather be back there, but that isn’t life.  Life takes us where we might not want to go. Get over yourself.  You complain about taxes… Pay up pal.  I’ve been paying my whole life and could care less if you have to shell out a bit more!  
    David Suzuki isn’t wrong here with his message.  Too bad because I enjoy my mountain time and an electric vehicle won’t get me there like my gas guzzling 4×4 will.  Oh well.  That’s life.

  9. neverwannabeknown   April 17, 2014 at 10:27 am

    Keep It Real People  21.5 B?  That’s a drop in the bucket for infrastructure spending.  It costs over a Million bucks (yes – with an M) to pave one km of roadway.  His message is that we need to curb our use of cars over time.  Time…  not right away.  I live closer to my job now.  I drive my vehicle less.  That’s a change in a positive direction.  You ride a bike.  Awesome change (assuming you used to drive a car?) in the right direction.  By infrastructure spending – it’s not about the roads.  It’s about how we use them.  More sensible transport.  Delivery vehicles aren’t going away.  Personal vehicles aren’t going away – but why do we insist on using them all the time the way we do?  Bus, train, etc…would be nice – but they need to be convenient and available.  That’s the infrastructure we need to fix.  Mass transport just isn’t a good way to travel for a lot of people right now.  Takes much longer to go where you are going and isn’t convenient…
    I live in a city, work in the same city at the airport…and can’t get to work from home on mass transit.  It doesn’t exist for me.  I could bike it…but drivers here would kill me (tried this one year…and now my bike is rotting in the corner of a room because I can’t justify my death due to stupid drivers).  
    There are solutions we can do.  We need to figure this out instead of hiding our heads in the sand.