Sunday, October 25, 2009

Cars: A Rant

A friend of mine is in hospital after she was hit by a car. She has a broken pelvis and a crushed ribcage. She may never walk properly again.

About fifteen years ago my little sister had a similarly awful experience, and spent three months in hospital after some witless bitch turned right in front of her and knocked her off her motorbike. She's still scarred, one of her hands doesn't work properly, and she has a not unreasonable fear of roads.

About a month later, the exact same thing happened to me, but I got away with just a wrecked bike and a week of not being able to walk or breathe properly.

When I was in my twenties, a friend of mine was killed when he was walking down a rural road and a car just wiped him out for no reason.

A few years ago, I heard that another old friend had been killed on his way to work in a similar manner.

My grandmother in her seventies was knocked down and horribly injured on a zebra crossing. It took her six months to recover.

Is this concentration of horror a statistical fluke, or are these things just ludicrously dangerous?
We wouldn't dream of allowing people to inflict this sort of toll of death and injury on others in any other aspect of life whatsoever. Even wars aren't usually fought against defenseless old ladies.

None of the above incidents involved alcohol. Why have we got such a downer on drink-driving? It's not the drinking that's the problem.

For comparison, I know one person who's died of lung cancer, and he was seventy-eight years old, and no people at all who even know any people who've been murdered or killed in accidents not involving cars.

Can you imagine what the reaction of Health and Safety would be to an industrial plan to allow semi-trained angry morons to control huge pieces of deadly machinery moving at lethally fast speeds amongst members of the public protected at best by two inch high barriers?

I once lost control and skidded across a zebra crossing on ice. Until I put the brakes on and lost all grip on the road, I wasn't even aware that I was doing anything dangerous.

Fortunately the four people on the crossing had time to scatter out of the way. I could quite easily have killed them all. Why on earth should anyone be allowed to take that sort of risk with other people's lives and health?

Recently I've been hearing a lot of bleating from various murderous psychopaths about forcing cyclists to wear helmets, so that the psychopaths in question don't need to drive as carefully in order to reduce their chances of killing them.

Can anyone explain why this is morally different to requiring people in shopping centres to wear flak jackets so that people who like to let off shotguns in shopping centres don't have to be as careful where they aim?

Briefly this summer I lived on a road in the centre of town which is effectively a dead end, and on which so many cars are double-parked that it's very hard to drive down at all. The four or five children who lived on that road played together every day in the street, with balls, and with roller skates, and with scooters, and seemed delightfully happy. They always smiled at me and said hello when I went out and came home. They reminded me of my own childhood. I haven't seen anything like it for thirty years.

When I was a child, it was possible to play around my home village. When my parents were children it was possible for them to play in the streets of towns.

I have just moved from a comparatively car-free part of Cambridge, to Mill Road, a filthy, permanent traffic jam, where enraged idiots make daily attempts on my life in order to overtake me as I cycle. Their usual reward for successfully squeezing two cars and a bike into enough space for two cars is to join the next stoppage five seconds earlier than they would have managed if they'd driven safely.

I enjoy flicking them the finger as I pass them, and I fantasize about beating them to death with my bike lock. From talking to people, it seems most people who live there feel the same way. Some other people drive down Mill Road because it's too dangerous to cycle. They spend hours in screaming frustration in traffic jams and hate cyclists. They fantasize about mowing us down. There's nowhere to park in town. A significant number of them are driving to the gym.

If I cycle in the middle of the road, as recommended in the highway code, to prevent drivers overtaking in the face of oncoming traffic, then their response is insane in its fury, usually involving sitting on their horn, and occasionally involving deliberate attempts to knock me off. Probably meant more as a warning than as an actual assault. I hope.

I know one man who was actually knocked clean off and run over by a taxi driver who objected to being behind him. Apparently the next car in front was about fifteen feet away at the time.

I find this so distressing that I am going to move to a place with less insane roads as soon as I can, which is a shame, because I like my new house, and wouldn't leave otherwise. If I had children, I not only wouldn't let them cycle on Mill Road, I wouldn't let them walk near it either.

And Cambridge is unusually bike friendly. I don't think Mill Road would be considered a particularly dangerous road in most cities.

Almost all modern children, it seems to me, are forced to rot inside because if they go out they'll be killed by some stupid cunt who wants to get to Tesco's and thinks they're a bit too important to drive carefully.

If children are allowed out, then they have to be driven! It's the only safe way to get around unless you've got a degree in road safety and also have a lot of luck.

OK, so that's the case against.

What benefits do we get from widespread car ownership and use?

Well, people can live much further away from where they work than would otherwise be practical. Which is obviously a good thing, because if people lived near where they worked and where their friends and families lived, they wouldn't have time to watch so many adverts. Then they wouldn't need to work so hard and the economy would collapse.

They can shop in horrid soulless shopping centres miles from where they live. In fact they have to, because all the local shops have closed down.

And it gives people a nice way of honestly communicating how wealthy or sophisticated they are. In England, what with class getting in the way, this system is complex and very entertaining. See Kate Fox's "Watching the English" for an overview and many amusing details. This is probably a great help in mate selection and alliance forming.

Anything else?

I suppose it's possible that the fact that everywhere's filthy and ugly and smells of petrol might be a benefit.

And certainly the building of roads has destroyed a lot of areas of natural beauty and inconvenient wildlife which were wasting a lot of space.

And it's sliced a lot of communities in half. Smaller communities are tighter knit.

And a lot of very unpleasant angry people are isolated from decent society by having to spend hours every day sitting alone in antisocial little steel boxes in traffic jams and on motorways. Listening to morons on the radio.

Is there anything good about these fucking things at all?


Don't get me wrong, by the way. I actually love cars and motorbikes and petrol engines and the freedom of the open road. I even like driving dangerously as long as I'm nowhere near anyone else whom I might hurt.

I currently own a big transit van, and there was a point where I owned four motorcycles simultaneously. I can strip and reassemble an old engine without a manual. And it will still work afterwards.

It's just that the benefit of driving to me is very small indeed compared with the cost imposed on me by the vehicles of everyone else.

And much as I love my van, if we could all agree to put all our vehicles on a big bonfire I'd be happy to put mine on too.

But even if we can't do that for some reason that I don't really understand, could we perhaps agree to keep them at the edge of town, and then if we want to go somewhere a long way away, we could cycle the first mile or so?

And we could have race tracks and rally courses for petrolheads like me to go and play on. Because I really don't mind people hurting themselves, or even other consenting adults. It's only the innocent and non-consenting victims I want to save.

And at the moment that's all of us.

1 comment:

  1. If you get the opportunity, I suggest you read Traffic by Tom Vanderbilt. It speaks to some of the points you have made.