Sharing the road.

Most US cars weight about 2 tons.  That’s 4,000 lbs.   Cars are predominantly steel and aluminum.  To operate such heavy machines at speeds in excess of 20mph is to operate deadly weapons.   It’s pretty much indisputable.  Here are some facts and numbers from the CDC:

  • Unintentional motor vehicle traffic fatalities are the leading cause of “injury death” for Americans.
  • In 2007 there were 37,435 fatal crashes, resulting in 42,031 deaths.  This includes drivers, passengers, pedestrians and ‘pedalcyclists.’
  • That same year, firearms were responsible for the deaths of 31,224 Americans.  Over 10,000 fewer Americans were killed in 2007 by guns than were by cars. (As an aside, only 12,632 of those firearm deaths were homicides.  The majority were suicides, at 17,352, and the remainder were accidents.)

Like anecdotal evidence?  I killed a deer once at 40mph.  It wasn’t pretty.

I’m not saying cars should be banned.  We Americans are ideologically attached to ‘the right of the people to keep and bear arms’.  Semi-joking aside, cars are useful machines, and there is a time and place for the unbridled speed and power made possible by the internal combustion engine.

What I am saying is that similar to firearms, our attitude toward the regulation of motor vehicles needs to be serious and committed to minimizing injury and loss of life. We need to take into account the very real environmental and social costs of operating these deadly machines when we think about our traffic laws, our taxes, our government-sponsored rewards and incentives and our urban planning.

After a night out drinking, most of us understand the importance of the decision to use public transportation or hire a taxi.  We need to go one step further. We need to elevate to consciousness the everyday externalities of driving when we decide where to live, and where to work, and where we go to relax and have fun.

These are some ideas:

  • HUUuge tax breaks to cyclists.
  • Lower speed limits for cars, particular in areas where there is high population density.
  • Tax penalties for the excessive mileage.
  • During rush hour (or at all times…) designate some roads “Cyclists Only” and others “Motor Vehicle Traffic Only”.
  • Add “Unsafe Pass” laws to city ordinances, and then actually enforce them.  Make it illegal to pass a cyclist moving in the direction of traffic at a speed greater than 15 mph.  In other words, drivers must SLOW TO PASS.

Any  more ideas about how to deal with the issue of our ‘car culture’?


4 thoughts on “Sharing the road.

  1. hoidis says:

    You are so right on with this, and I know YOU know I’m 100% behind these ideas. I’ve decided not to give up on my project of bringing bicycle safety to more schools in Chicago–actually found out that some of the “problem” Safe Routes has is that some schools don’t want them to come in and disrupt their school. Their programs actually ARE available to ALL CPS. Which means: a. there’s something seriously wrong with the level of bicycling safety in the US, and b. the number alone are not doing enough to convince people that this is a serious issue. It seems like more people feel the solution is to ignore cycling and force people to abandon it than it is to come up with some sort of happy compromise between these 2 ton and 20 pound death traps.

    • Brendan Finucane says:

      yeah disruptions are bad. you got NCLB in part to thank for that. i remember in danville it was a huge production, moving kids in large groups to the gym, anything that disrupted the flow meant lots of staff with walkie-talkies trying to avert potential discipline problems. also in lots of districts the curricula are specified down to the level of day-to-day content. and teacher/administrator bonuses and even jobs are based on that crap. it’s crazy.

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