Rethinking Mobility: The High Cost of Our Car-Centric World

Explore the profound impacts of automobility on health, society, and the planet, and discover interventions that can lead us toward a more sustainable future.

Rethinking Mobility: The High Cost of Our Car-Centric World
Photo by Aleksandr Popov / Unsplash

What is the global cost of cars? Car harm: A global review of automobility's harm to people and the environment set out to review exactly that and the findings are stunning.

The world's reliance on cars, or automobility, extends far beyond a mere preference for convenience; it's a deeply ingrained system that shapes our cities, impacts our health, and affects our planet. Despite cars being hailed as symbols of freedom and progress, their dominance comes with a hefty price tag, affecting nearly everyone, regardless of whether they drive.

The True Cost of Automobility

Automobility, the system encompassing cars, highways, and the culture of driving, is not just about getting from point A to point B. It's a complex network that has reshaped human settlements, privileging vehicles over more sustainable forms of transportation like trains, buses, bicycles, and our own feet. This system is supported by a vast infrastructure, government policies, and cultural attitudes that often see cars as the default mode of transportation.

We find that, since their invention, cars and automobility have killed 60–80 million people and injured at least 2 billion. Currently, 1 in 34 deaths are caused by automobility.
  • Details
    • Violence: Traffic crashes and intentional violence cause significant harm, with crashes killing 1.3 million people annually.
    • Ill Health: Pollution from cars contributes to respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, while sedentary lifestyles linked to car use exacerbate health issues.
    • Social Injustice: Automobility perpetuates inequalities, with its burdens unequally distributed among different demographics and regions.
    • Environmental Damage: Cars are major contributors to carbon emissions, pollution, and the destruction of habitats.

Despite the evidence of harm, the expansion of roads, manufacturing of larger vehicles, and subsidies for parking and electric cars continue unabated. The critique of automobility is not new; it has been challenged for decades by thinkers and activists concerned with its impact on human life, urban spaces, and the environment.

The Global Picture

With around 2 billion motor vehicles in use, cars are unevenly distributed worldwide, leading to disparities in environmental and health impacts. The wealthiest countries, despite their smaller populations, have the highest number of cars per person. This distribution not only exacerbates local environmental and health issues but also has global repercussions, affecting countries and populations that benefit the least from automobility.

Interventions for a Sustainable Future

While the scale of automobility's impact might seem daunting, numerous interventions can mitigate its harms. These range from congestion charges and reduced parking to the creation of car-free zones and the promotion of electric bikes and car sharing. Such measures have already shown promise in various cities around the globe, offering glimpses of a more sustainable and equitable future.

The shift towards a less car-dependent world requires challenging the status quo and reimagining our urban environments. It's not just about replacing gas cars with electric ones but addressing the broader issues of space, accessibility, and the allocation of resources. As we move forward, it's crucial to consider how our transportation choices impact the world around us and to strive for solutions that benefit everyone, not just the privileged few.