Want to get food? Get in your car. Want to get to school? Get in your car. Want to go to the gym? Get in your car.
For many of us, car-dependency is a longstanding and problematic reality. Proponents of car-dependent lifestyles often argue cars provide a level of autonomy that walkable or bikeable lifestyles can’t rival, but this perspective is short-sighted.
Sure, with a car, you don’t need to look up the bus schedule, but car ownership restricts options overall. Cars come with unpredictable maintenance expenses, exorbitant auto insurance payments, and volatile gas prices. The worst part of all these costs? There’s not always a clear-cut way to reduce them.
Most car-related costs are fixed, meaning car-dependent people are paying the same amounts regardless of how much they actually drive. On the other hand, a walkable or bikeable lifestyle offers greater financial freedom without need to worry about gas price spikes or breakdowns.
There’s also the fact that driving just isn’t great for our mental or physical health; research has consistently shown driving is a risk factor for many negative health outcomes.
One study found that each hour spent driving is linked to a six per cent rise in the probability of becoming obese. More time stuck in traffic also means less time for physical needs such as sleep and social needs like outings with family and friends.
On the other hand, if you live in an area where you walk or bike to work instead of driving, you’ll get regular exercise and have more time to meet personal needs.
Car-dependency is incompatible with the emission reductions targets we need to meet to stave off a climate catastrophe. Carbon emissions from fossil fuel use constitute the largest contributor to anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.
Given the rise of electric cars, many contend car-dependency is still the way forward. Unfortunately, while it’s great that electric cars don’t emit carbon from their tailpipes, they still come with a host of environmental concerns.
Mineral extraction comes with an array of ecological consequences and it’s central to electric vehicle manufacturing. For example, building an electric vehicle battery is 50 percent more water-intensive than building an internal combustion engine for a gas-powered car.
We need to reduce our car dependency but making the change can be overwhelming.
For starters, it’s all about where we live. Is it a sprawling suburb or a compact neighbourhood? Is the local transportation infrastructure friendly to pedestrians and bikers?
Governments need to invest more into supporting people who want to reduce their dependence on cars. Making lifestyle choices such as moving to a high-density area with walkable or bikeable infrastructure can make a significant difference.
It’s time to hit the brakes on car dependency and move forward with sustainable alternatives.
Vineeth is a second-year Health Sciences student and one of The Journal’s Copy Editors