Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Why My Son Won't Drive A Car

It is sometimes a mistake to give children the full truth. They might act on it. When my son was very young, I taught him about the problems of an automobile society, the inherent danger and the environmental impact. I also told him how our societies are built around the necessity of cars. This is summarized in Rusty Pritchard's article below.

Because of this, my son refuses to learn to drive, to get a license. He'll ride with me-- beg me to drive him sometimes-- but he won't drive himself. Someday he'll learn consistency between ideals and actions (maybe as soon as I do?), but in the meantime I am still the only one in my large household that drives. Dang, why do I shoot myself in the foot like this?

Anyway, read Rusty's article. It's excellent. This was copied from Evangelicals For Social Action's website:

Toyotas (and Fords) 600 Times More Dangerous than Media Report
by Rusty Pritchard

An estimated 19 people have died in crashes related to unexpected acceleration in Toyota-made vehicles over the last decade. This has led to a national uproar, dominating the news cycle and flooding dealers with recalled autos to repair.

I did some back-of-the-envelope calculations to put the problem in perspective. In a year, Toyota drivers, if they are like other drivers, put about 11,400 miles on their vehicle. Ten years of driving (114,000 miles, give or take), times the number of vehicles involved in the recall (8 million), equals the total miles driven by recalled vehicles over 10 years (912 billion miles; that’s 9.12 x 10^11 for you exponentially-minded people).

So dividing the number of deaths (19) by the total miles driven gives an estimated risk of death from sudden acceleration: 2 deaths per 100 billion vehicle miles traveled.

To put that in perspective, in 2008, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration calculates your risk of dying from an automobile accident at 1270 deaths per 100 billion vehicle miles traveled.

Hmmm. That means that you are over 600 times more likely to die in an automobile fatality in ANY make of car than you are to die from a Toyota flawed acceleration system. Statistically speaking, stuck accelerators and faulty floor mats just don’t matter.

Getting in a car is inherently dangerous.

But it is worse than that. By building our cities the way we have since World War II, we in the US are virtually forcing our citizens to make very dangerous choices, if they want to work, go to school, go to the doctor, or shop. Relatively few Americans live in neighborhoods where they can choose not to have a car, largely because we’ve built our cities on the cheap, failing to provide public transportation alternatives, outlawing mixed-use developments through perverse zoning policies, and subsidizing development on the margins of our cities with public money. In the case of land use and transportation, we get exactly the system our policies promote.

Getting in a car is dangerous, and it’s hard to avoid getting in a car. It’s even dangerous for people who aren’t in the cars.

While we’ve abandoned the American landscape to the automobile, the death rate from traffic fatalities in the US, for passengers, drivers, and pedestrians, has leapfrogged past every other cause of death for children over the age of one, and it remains the leading cause of death even for young adults.

Citizens in the US are twice as likely to die from automobiles as citizens in the UK, to take another developed world example; we have the highest risk of any developed country, not because our roads are more dangerous, or our cars more deadly. Our death rate is sky-high because we expect people to drive everywhere, and therefore we spend much more time in cars than folks in other countries. We’ve built a landscape in which no one is seriously expected to walk or bike to any destination. This has an effect on our obesity rate and on all the diseases driven by being overweight (diabetes, heart disease, stroke, stress, cancer). But the main health effect is on the number of Americans who die in the traffic epidemic.

But we take this deadly epidemic (and the corresponding injury rates) without blinking, having become convinced that it is somehow natural to have 35,000 Americans die each year on the road.

There are alternatives: It is possible to design healthy places that are not only safe but which also cultivate community, flourishing economies, and happy families. For ideas, check out the Healthy Places section of the CDC website, or the other resources on healthy places for community developers at Flourish’s website.

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