Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Opting Out of the Auto Arms Race

Decades ago I made the decision to basically opt out of the automotive world. I still live on the same planet as my car-owning, car-driving friends, but I decided that I could manage to move around on this planet without owning or driving an automobile. This has worked out better than fine for me and I encourage people to enrich their lives by getting out and about under their own power whenever possible.

I recognize that there are certainly times and circumstances where the walking shoe or the bicycle is not the optimal solution to a transport problem and in my own life some of my best adventures have involved the bus or the train, a ferry boat, an airplane or a private automobile. But that last one, the automobile, is the one I'm most wary of. I mostly don't fear the bus, the truck, the train or the plane. They are piloted by professionals, men and women who make their living by motion. But the private cars and SUVs that fill every road we build (because if you build it, they will come), those big boxes of momentum are driven by and large by folks whose job is something other than driving. We have taken fragile, error-prone, very human human beings and put them in charge of a lot of mass.

This is the equation that frightens me:

It's Newton's Second Law and it's the law that matters. It's not the speed that kills you, it's the energy of the system. Mass times acceleration as the physicists say. And we, by an large, keep adding more and more massive missiles to our system. We think we'll make our kids safe by wrapping them in a two-ton SUVs loaded with car seats and airbags. But one bus with 40 kids and a trained driver is a hell of lot safer than 40 distracted soccer moms in 40 Escalades. Making streets where kids can safely walk or bike to school? I think that's better still.

Given Newton's Second Law, am I not endangering myself by not choosing the big SUV as I go out on the mean streets of the city? I'm just bringing a knife to a gun fight. Car vs Bike, hell you can do the math, right?

Maybe not.

Here's an interesting stat:

The majority of fatal crashes involve only one vehicle (61 percent).

Think about that.

I did.

I could say that I'm a better than average driver but the odds are I'm not. By the way, a vast majority of drivers think that they are better than average but, of course, on average, they are average. And half of them are worse than average. That's the way math works.

So I'm my own worst enemy. And adding thousands of pounds to my daily motion? I'm better off if I can avoid it. And then there is all that health, well-being and exercise stuff. I like to walk and bike. I don't like to drive. So I don't.

I'm not bringing a knife to gunfight, I've given up my gun because there's a good chance I'll shoot myself with it. Or I might shoot you. Either way, this shooting people, or running them down if we want to get away from metaphor, it's not a great idea. As the computer noted at the end of War Games, "A strange game. The only winning move is not to play."

Yes, I'm just one guy. But I'm one guy not in a car. One less car on the road. And actually, I don't think I was a better than average driver back when I drove. There's at least a 50% chance I was worse. I do know this: I'm better off not driving and I think you're better off with me not driving. So I'm just one guy, but that's something.

I'm happier, healthier and safer since I stopped driving. It's not my place to tell you not to drive, I don't know you or your circumstance. But if you want to drive less, I posted some advice on that subject here.

Gandhi gave the better advice than I ever have when he said, "Be the change you wish to see in the world."

I'm not doing battle on the mean streets of the city, I'm making my way in the world at the speed that makes sense to me. I've opted out of the auto arms race, but I still keep on rolling.

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA
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