We're in the midst of a self-imposed hiatus from writing new blog material, as we're busy hustling behind-the-scenes on our first full-length book. But rather than suffer through total radio silence, we thought it would be fun to periodically revisit old articles we've published over the years, many of which are no longer available online. The following, written by Chris, originally appeared in Hush Magazine on September 12th, 2013.
I’m a firm believer in positive messaging, especially when it comes to influencing the modes of transportation people select on a daily basis. If walking, cycling and public transit are made convenient and enjoyable, more will begin to choose them. However, as I watch my neighbours and colleagues continue to treat Vancouver as their own personal NASCAR track, to their own detriment and that of everyone around them, I realize positivity just isn’t enough. These individuals need a better appreciation of how selfish, anti-social, unhealthy, and destructive this seemingly benign decision actually is. As with smoking in the late 20th century, our society’s challenge for the early 21st century is to address the cancerous act of driving, and stigmatize it into obscurity.
Let’s face it: when someone gets into a car, they are entering a bubble. Not just a physical bubble of metal and glass, but also a figurative one, where all logic and reasoning is barred from entering. They seem oblivious to the simple truth that the motor vehicle is the most inefficient mode of transportation ever devised. Without thinking, they squander millions of years of stored solar energy to haul around two tons of metal, fiberglass, machinery, and electronics, along with their meager frame. This machine demands a colossal amount of space: 300 square feet when parked, and 3,000 square feet when moving at 50 km/hr. As a result, we carelessly hand over vast chunks of our public realm to the parasitic automobile; space that could be put to much better use.
Drivers also make a number of erroneous assumptions about the various trips they take. Travel times and costs are consistently underestimated, as they blindly want to believe their car is the fastest, most efficient way to get from A to B. Rush-hour congestion on Georgia Street or ever-elusive parking spots in the West End are chalked up to circumstance, rather than the inevitable, self-inflicted characteristics of car-first design. Considering the total time devoted to owning and maintaining an automobile, including the amount of work time spent paying for it, an average trip speed of 30 km/hr is reduced to an effective speed of just 12 km/hr. The humble bicycle – taking into account all of the same variables – averages an effective speed of about 17 km/hr.
The severe impact driving has on our physical and emotional health is well documented, if not broadly accepted. The stress and isolation of being trapped, without meaningful human interaction, has tremendous effects on brain chemistry. It leaves people angry, distrustful, and individualistic, with studies finding a correlation between the amount of time a person spends in a car and their degree of social conservatism. The physical health impacts, however, are far more detrimental: asthma, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease are all symptoms of a car-dependent lifestyle, costing countless lives and dollars each and every day. Driving at 100 km/hr for an hour is said to reduce a person’s life expectancy by 20 minutes, while cycling at 20 km/hr increases it by two and a half hours.
Perhaps no other symptom of car culture is more prevalent – and ignored – than the daily carnage that takes place on our streets. Every single day on this planet, 3,561 people suffer a horrific death inside a car. If another consumer product – such as a toaster – was causing this amount of death and destruction, we would immediately fix or ban the toaster. Instead, we treat road deaths as inevitable, collateral damage in our modern lives. For every death that occurs, there are innumerable other injuries: broken bones, severed limbs, crushed extremities, and head injuries. In fact, almost half of all head injuries occur within an automobile. For consistency’s sake, anyone preaching the societal costs of cycling without head gear must also be serious about car helmets.
As if being a threat to themselves wasn’t enough, motorists also endanger everyone around them, especially the most vulnerable users of the road: pedestrians and cyclists. A single moment of impatience or carelessness (running a orange light, replying to a Tweet, or speeding down a residential street) can end in a collision where the one outside of the metal cage doesn’t stand a chance. Yet for some reason, we continue to allow cars to run rampant in our neighbourhoods, and the safety, vitality, and cohesiveness of our communities suffer for it. To top it all off, children living near arterial roads suffer higher rates of cancer, asthma, bronchitis, and autism; directly linked with their exposure to poisonous car exhaust for prolonged periods of time.
Of course, these inconvenient truths might be disregarded, were there not two very real – and very large – elephants in the room: peak oil and climate change. While many assume the status quo of happy motoring will perpetuate ad nauseum, reality does not have an ideological or political agenda. Our species has burned off half of the planet’s oil supply in just 150 years of industrialisation, and extracting the remaining half will be far more difficult, expensive, and environmentally damaging. We have already dramatically altered the chemistry of our atmosphere: having experienced 341 consecutive months of above average global temperatures, and extreme weather events becoming all the more frequent (drought, floods, wildfires and hurricanes, to name a few). Fantasies of hydrogen and electric cars only delay our acceptance of this bleak prospect, as governments continue to sink trillions into a mode of transport with no future.
Those who choose to drive a car do so by force of habit and set of assumptions that, under closer examination, prove to be entirely false. And so, I would like to revisit an idea the Copenhagenize blog first proposed in 2009, but whose time has come: cigarette-style warning labels on the exterior of cars, as a stark and constant reminder of the myriad consequences of getting behind the wheel. Millennials are already opting out of car ownership in droves, realizing it no longer represents the status and freedom it once did. But the automobile industry has a vested interest in maintaining our ignorance. Therefore, we need a massive public education campaign to remind folks how dangerous, expensive, and inefficient cars really are. In doing so, we might finally break the cycle of car addiction, and we’ll all be a little healthier, wealthier and happier for it.
To view and download the complete set of twelve warning labels designed by the author, please click here.