Let us imagine that somebody invents a new form of transport, which has the unfortunate side effect of killing a few thousand people every week. Do you think that it would be tolerated?
But nobody raises an eyebrow when seven people die in traffic during the Easter weekend in Sweden. If they died in trains or buses or aeroplanes or from a leak in a nuclear power station, there would be an outcry and an inquiry and no expense would be spared to ensure it does not happen again. But if it is in traffic…njah…let’s just mumble about doing better in the future and move on, shall we?
According to the WHO, in 1998 over a million people died worldwide from traffic accidents – and that doesn’t include the ones that died indirectly from respiratory illness and whatever else is caused by intensive car use. In the US alone the number was close to 50,000, which means that the same number of Americans that died in the whole Vietnam War are dying every year on American roads.
And there are no serious complaints. A touch odd, don’t you think? It’s just one indication of how deeply rooted cars and car travel is in our society. Almost everything in the modern urban landscape is built around cars. As Carl Sagan mentioned, any creature looking down on Earth from above would naturally assume that cars are the dominant life form on the planet and that humans are merely some kind of parasite.
The average travel speed in London during rush hour these days is slower than it was in the age of horse-drawn carts. We have surrounded ourselves with machines that are supposed to make our lives better and easier and discovered that there is no space left over for us.
I’m not saying we should not have cars. I am saying that people dying, whether from breathing fumes or getting eviscerated in car-wrecks, is perhaps more important than this “right” we believe we have to piss around the countryside at will and waste our lives and resources sitting in unmoving lines of traffic.