I’ve been reading a book called ‘Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do’ by Tom Vanderbilt, which resonates very well with me. Now I’m no petrol head, but I still like driving my car and it is still more convenient than public transport in most instances based on where I live and my lifestyle. I also like to consider myself as being green when it comes to looking after our planet and ecology.
His book is about the USA, but we aren’t very different and some of the stats are scary. In the USA in the 1960’s most households had only one car. Today more own three than own one. One in five new homes has a 3-car garage.
But that’s America of course, so let’s have a look in New Zealand. In 2013 16% of households had 3 or more vehicles and that number is growing. The number of households with no motor vehicles is declining. In 2013 there were over 3 million registered motor vehicles in New Zealand. That is pretty close to 1 vehicle per person over the age of 15.
We continue to have a fascination with cars and this huge industry is full of contradictions which I feel reflect how ‘s predictably our society is irrational. For example we talk about being green and caring for the environment, yet we continue to destroy it for the sake of our lifestyle.
When it comes to cars, we support the concepts of public transport, but we aspire to buy the latest car or the car with the best gadgets in many cases because there is no status in traveling by bus and we can’t feel better than our fellow man, or if not that, then its just about how cool you feel with your own set of wheels.
Another corollary is that we want all the gadgets, automatic cars with loads of cool functions, yet we have less knowledge about how they work. Neither of my children understand or care how a car works. They just expect it to go in the direction they point it in.
Looking at the number of incidents I see on the road, we are also not very engaged in the driving process. This is especially true in Vanderbilt’s observations of the commute.
“Surely you have had a moment when you were driving down the road and suddenly found yourself “awake at the wheel”, unable to remember the last few minutes. In a way, much of the time we spend in traffic is like that, a kind of gauzy dream state of automatic muscle movements an half-remembered images. Traffic is an in-between time in which we are more likely to think about where we are going than where we are at the moment. Time and space are skewed in traffic: our vision is fragmented and often unclear, and we take in and then almost forget hundreds, perhaps thousands of images and impressions.”
What’s the definition of a pedestrian in America?
Someone who just got out of their car.