My friend has a problem. She drives a car.

Maybe you know someone like this. 

She doesn’t just drive to work, where her car sits all day, waiting for her to come out so she can drive it some more. She drives everywhere.

No trip is too short. She drives to the store or to “run” errands, almost always alone. She drives it to a place she goes to exercise. She takes it for trips on the weekend, even vacations. It’s like she’s obsessed.

I’m worried about her.

All this driving is really dangerous. About 40,000 people die on America’s roads every year. That’s more than are killed by gun violence and almost as many who die from opioid overdose.

It’s by far the most dangerous way to get around. Per mile traveled, driving is 17 times more deadly than traveling by train and 66 times more dangerous than riding a bus.

Every time I see it snow or get icy, I wonder if this will be the time that my friend doesn’t make it back alive.

If it were only her safety, I guess I could respect her decision. But she’s not just putting her own life at risk.

There are almost 6,000 pedestrians who are killed every year, and it’s not because they crash into each other on the sidewalks. Drivers kill them. 

And gas-powered cars pollute the air, causing tens of thousands more preventable deaths every year in this country alone.

Just under 30 percent of the heat-trapping greenhouse gases released into our atmosphere come out of vehicle tailpipes, making it the single biggest contributor to global warming.

My friend is not crazy. She’s not selfish. So why is she so committed to this risky, wasteful and dangerous habit?

Don’t ask her. If you bring it up, she gets totally defensive.

Sometimes she says she has no choice. There’s no bus service where she lives and she says that she can’t afford to live in a walkable neighborhood, so she has to drive.

But then she says that she loves the freedom that comes from driving.

Which is it? Having no choice is usually considered the opposite of freedom.

And what freedom is she really talking about?

The freedom to get up at 5 AM to shovel snow? The freedom to circle the block, looking for a parking spot. How about the freedom to sit in traffic?

A police officer can’t come into your house without a warrant or stop you on the street for questioning without probable cause. But because cars are so dangerous, an officer can pull you over when you’re driving just about any time they want. How free is that?

My friend is not free, she’s a slave to her car. 

Once you are hooked on driving, it’s really hard to quit. The joys of car ownership have been hardwired in our brains, not just by industry advertising but also by movies, TV shows and songs on the radio. Even little kids’ books and toys get children hooked on driving a car before they learn to ride a bike. 

I get it. Driving is fun. So is cocaine, but we don’t structure our whole society around it.

Even if someone like my friend wanted to quit, it wouldn’t be easy. 

Democrats and Republicans don’t agree on much, but politicians from both parties seem totally committed to promoting individual car use. When they talk about infrastructure, they mean wider highways and more parking, not sidewalks or functional alternatives.

They are terrified of their constituents who are addicted to driving. Office holders know they won’t get much blowback from underfunding the bus system, but messing with parking could start a revolution.

This is a public health crisis. Who is going to support the people who want to quit driving?

It’s an important question. I’m asking for a friend.


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