“In almost every way imaginable, the car, as it is deployed and used today, is insane.”


It starts and ends with this. I’ve broken down the article into bullet points. If the author’s thesis is valid, and I believe it largely is, then the corollary is that virtually every decision taken by city government begins with the acknowledgement of this fundamental, unshakable insanity.

Think about that.

The Absurd Primacy of the Automobile in American Life, by Edward Humes (City Lab)

Considering the constant fatalities, rampant pollution, and exorbitant costs of ownership, is the car’s dominance a little insane?

 … But convenience, along with American history, culture, rituals, and man-machine affection, hide the true cost and nature of cars. And what is that nature? Simply this: In almost every way imaginable, the car, as it is deployed and used today, is insane.

  • First and foremost, they are profligate wasters of money and fuel.
  • While burning through all that fuel, cars and trucks spew toxins and particulate waste into the atmosphere that induce cancer, lung disease, and asthma. These emissions measurably decrease longevity—not by a matter of days, but years. 
  • There are also the indirect environmental, health, and economic costs of extracting, transporting, and refining oil for vehicle fuels, and the immense national-security costs and risks of being dependent on oil imports for significant amounts of that fuel.
  • Then there is the matter of climate. Transportation is a principal cause of the global climate crisis, exacerbated by a stubborn attachment to archaic, wasteful, and inefficient transportation modes and machines. 
  • If the price of gasoline and the vehicles that burn it actually reflected the true costs and damage they inflict, the common car would go extinct. Gasoline would cost way more than $10 a gallon. That’s how big the secret subsidy is.
  • And that’s not even counting cars’ most dramatic cost: They waste lives. They are one of America’s leading causes of avoidable injury and death, especially among the young.
  • If U.S. roads were a war zone, they would be the most dangerous battlefield the American military has ever encountered. 
  • The car is the star.