Monday, December 10, 2012

#2. Cars

In 30 years time, people will look back on the fact that high schoolers used to drive themselves to school, in wonderment.  They will marvel at the wastefulness of our transport system.  When you take into consideration that the internal combustion engine is about 30% efficient, the fact that the car is tonnes heavier than it needs to be, that cars sit in traffic not moving, and that most journeys are done alone, the car becomes a very inefficient way of getting from point A to point B - 2.1% efficient in fact.

We all sit in these metal boxes, disconnected from others around us, complaining about the traffic.  I would like to live in a world where we walk or ride our bike to school or the shops.  This could help us become better connected to our communities - an important part of making us happy.  And the bizarre thing is that we say we love driving. In actual fact we hate it. If you ask any group of people what really annoys them in life, it will not be long before somebody mentions something other drivers do. Driving tends to bring out the worst in us - road rage is a perfect example.

Advertisers understand this.  That is why you will never see another car on the road in a car advertisement.  In fact car advertisements have about as much in common with reality as James Bond's life has with my life - S.F.A.  You will never see people commuting to work in a car advert.  No; they are off mountain biking, or coming back from golf to go out to some party.  Sure you may think you will do that when you buy a car, but in actual fact you will spend most of your time commuting.  You should think about that when you are looking for a car, not about that mountain biking trip that you will probably never take.

You're not sitting in traffic. You are traffic.

Not only are cars inefficient and frustrating; they are also killing us. Emissions and crashes are the obvious way in which they cull the heard, but they are also making us fat. That may seem obvious, that doing more driving makes you fatter, but somebody has gone and quatified it.  If you want to lose some weight, get out of your big fat car!

If someone were to design a system for getting people and things around today we'd never come up with this madness. Imagine going to a town planning meeting and proposing a system that involves 2 ton pieces of steel, controlled by the general public, that hoon around at 60 mph and at 2.1% efficiency, moving people where they want to go.  You'd be mocked.  Then when you explained the cost of the cars and the roading infrastructure you would be quietly sat down and told to shut up.  If you persisted and detailed the social and environmental costs of the system, you'd be committed to the mad house. 
However, dispite the dominance of car culture in most developed countries, I am hopeful of a shift back towards sainity.  In fact I have heard of young people calling driving in the new smoking.  When driving makes you as much as a social pariah as smoking, then we will be back on the right track. I hope I live to see that day.

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