The numbers are so huge they are not easily grasped, and so are perhaps best understood by a simple comparison: If U.S. roads were a war zone, they would be the most dangerous battlefield the American military has ever encountered.
I take the bus to work, and I absolutely love walking and biking. There are certain niche uses where a car is essential, but in an urban centre like Ottawa, many people can get around without relying on a car.
Having said that, just as many people, if not more, absolutely DEPEND on a car every day for transport to and from work and other social obligations. Most of this is because housing in big cities (Ottawa to some extent, Toronto and New York, for example, just take the example to astonishing extremes) is very expensive, so people choose to live where it’s cheaper, work in the urban centre, and commute for 30-60 minutes by car.
That thought is crazy to me. Even though I spend a ton of my life listening to podcasts, which are pretty perfect for car trips such as that, the thought of getting into a car every day to drive to the office is not something I think I’d enjoy that much.
Adding to that, we tend to think of car crashes as a tiny risk in our day to day lives, and it gets worse as those lives come to rely more and more on absolute certainty of normalcy. If our pizza is late, it’s free. If our Uber takes 10 minutes, we complain. When a bus breaks down (or doesn’t show up at all), we’re late for work.
But in a life (and society) where things are so safe (#firstworldproblems, anyone), the fact that any of us could die in such a quick, violent way on any given day is cause for alarm. We put car traffic above everything else in our transportation system, and yet it’s responsible for so many totally preventable deaths on our roads every day.
At some point, self-driving cars will take over, and crashes between two of those will be as unlikely as a plane crash is today. But for now, we’re stuck with an incredibly convenient transportation method where countless unknown cars around you are capable of completely changing, or ending, your life in an instant.
That’s scary, but it gives us something to strive for, and I think car culture as it exists now might be nearing its peak.