I caused a car crash this weekend. I was looking down, distracted while eating, and my foot must’ve slipped or something. I slammed into the car in front of me, which was stopped at a red light. The force was impactful, tossing the food I was eating around the car. I pulled over, slightly in shock, disoriented in that post-accident moment of confusion and embarrassment. Luckily, no one was hurt, and both cars were fine aside from a few minor scratches. I exchanged information with the other driver and we both went our separate ways.
In retelling this story, almost everyone I’ve talked to has said something along the lines of “yeah, don’t worry, it happens.” Even the guy I hit was understanding. Many have told me stories of accidents they’ve been involved in or witnessed. It’s reminded me of the other times I’ve been involved in minor accidents, but also of the people I’ve known that have died or been paralyzed in automobile crashes.
The crash made me realize that phrases like “accidents happen” have become an acceptable aspect of modern life. If you drive a car, the expectation that you could be hit or hit someone else is there. Drive past any horrific accident on any major street, and it’s more likely that people are concerned about traffic than they are the safety and well-being of themselves and others.
It seems to us that it has always been this way. That cars are the best, most convenient option to get around. Automobiles are a luxury, sure, but they’ve become far more ubiquitous since their introduction around a century ago.
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Many of us tend to forget that a century is not too long in the context of human civilization. Despite the technology being relatively new, cars have completely overtaken modern life. Cities around the world are full of them. After a century of automobiles, of enjoying the freedoms of individualized transportation and powerful vehicles, the damage is becoming clearer and clearer. Cars cause numerous problems, from traffic congestion to urban sprawl and pollution. Of all the problems cars cause, one can easily be considered the worst: fatality.
Cars kill more people than guns do. Yet rarely do you hear national debates about what classes of casr citizens should be allowed to own, or whether we should be allowed to drive at all. According to Bloomberg, traffic deaths are actually decreasing while gun deaths are increasing. The site estimates both are relatively equal at this point, causing between 30,000 and 35,000 deaths each year.
Just as there are logical ways to deal with gun control in the U.S., there could be logical responses to the problems caused by automobiles. Better public transportation infrastructure, a reduction in urban sprawl, and economic incentives to not own a car are all places to start. Other cities around the world are already leading by example. London introduced massive fees for drivers entering the center of the city, which successfully helped reduce traffic congestion. Bogota, Colombia drastically transformed itself on a campaign that emphasized a return to a walkable, pedestrian-friendly city. Copenhagen did the same with bikes.
Owning a car is undeniably great. You can go wherever you want, whenever you want, with whomever you want. You don’t have to rely on unreliable train schedules, and you can load up as many belongings as you can fit.
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Owning a car is also expensive. In the past month, I’ve racked up a $73 parking ticket, spent hundreds of dollars in gas, and now have to worry about an insurance increase after the accident. I even have to take a break in writing this to move my car for weekly “street cleaning.”
Owning a car is great and expensive, but most importantly it is dangerous. Public campaigns to deter people from drunk driving send an important message, but the emphasis also needs to be on automobiles in general. If gun control advocates can argue against accidental gun violence, they should be incensed at accidental traffic death. It sounds ridiculous because of how ingrained automobiles have become in our culture, how easily we can toss around phrases like “accidents happen,” but we have to remember that there are safer alternatives, that that’s not necessarily true.