Let’s start the conversation. America is addicted to cars. It’s no secret that a car has become intrinsic to modern life. On the one hand, we rely on it to go places, run errands, and carry cargo. It’s convenient for most, essential for a few. On the other hand, we worry about the effect of greenhouse emissions and the quality of the air we breathe, we complain about the never-ending rush-hour road congestions.

The facts

According to the latest report released by the U.S. Department of Transportation, there has been an increase of 2.5% in vehicle miles traveled (VMT) between April of 2018 and April of 2019. And while 2.5% doesn’t seem like that much, +6.8 billion vehicle miles, resulting in a total of 279.3 billion in just one month may seem like a much more shocking number.

And for the sake of comparison, the Department of Transportation surveyors added data beginning from 1994. If you look at the charts, you’ll see that in 2019, the number of VMT has increased by approximately 40 percent. What’s interesting is that the United States population has only grown by 20 percent within the same period of time. So it’s either that the number of vehicles on American roads has been growing twice as fast as the population, or people have become extremely dependent on cars driving longer distances and visiting more destinations by means of a personal vehicle.

The bitter truths

So despite various reports of Americans falling out of love with cars, the reality seems to be the opposite.

Let’s be honest, though, ever since the adoption of a motor vehicle, every effort was made to ensure car dependency. Even the Supreme Court has endorsed driving, proclaiming a car “a virtual necessity for most Americans”. Driving has been deeply engraved in our psyche.

Most responses to car travel problems focus on improving the driving conditions not making the shift in behavior.

To begin with, today older cars are cheap and reliable. Without much effort, you can squeeze 200,000 miles or more out of your Toyota or Honda. So unless you like the latest and the greatest, you can hold on to your car much longer.

When the issue of air pollution comes up – technological fixes like cleaner fuels or catalytic converters are the answers. Safety was first addressed with features like windshield wipers and seat-belts. Today, it has advanced to automatic emergency braking (AEB) and blind-spot detection.

EVs now are being actively promoted as both, safer and cleaner driving option, ignoring every other issue they may be bringing to the table. And taking into account America’s love for bigger vehicles, automakers enthusiastically invest in “electrifying” trucks and SUVs.

Image Source: insideevs.com

And with the advent of self-driving vehicles and robot taxis, even congestion may not be that much of an issue. Since you won’t have to keep your eyes on the road, you’ll be able to focus your attention on other important-to-you-things or indulge in day-dreaming.

Why would anyone want to give up a car when driving is only getting better?

So our governments spend billions of dollars on freeway expansion. We plan our cities and other urban areas with a car in mind. We model our streets to fit more vehicles and maximize the car flow. The American Dream of owning a house with a yard is more accessible if it’s far away from city centers.

And just like that green space is diminished for the sake of suburban sprawl. And then more open space is sacrificed to build parking and accommodate all those cars that bring people back to the city for work or leisure.

So just like that we are back to heavily congested freeways, overloaded surface streets, and longer times to cross even relatively short distance.

The solution

We find ourselves in a vicious circle. Trying to alleviate the effects of driving by improving cars and driving infrastructure, we only sink ourselves further in car dependency. If we really want to depend less on personal vehicles, we need a shift in paradigm. And that shift starts from within. There is no one-fits-all solution, neither will change happen overnight.

Therefore, instead of waiting for politicians and those with the power to come up with better options and start investing in greener and better mobility solutions, let’s start making small changes in how we move around. It may require us to explore outside the comfort zone and try things that at first may not seem as convenient as hopping in a car and just driving. But each small action counts when led by conscience.


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