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’?