Down With the Auto Industry

Jan Krawczyk, Staff Writer

*The opinions expressed within the content are solely the author’s and do not reflect the website’s or its affiliates’ opinions and beliefs.*

We see cars as an essential part of our lives. We’ve accepted the near-constant noise of bustling traffic and streets flooded with vehicles. However, the interest of businesses that produce cars often conflicts with the needs and well-being of the general population. As more roads separate us from our workplaces, the demand for cars and gas has increased to accompany our driving. From there, businesses only expand their profits from our driving and spending. 

Early in the American history of cars, automobiles were strongly disliked by the general public. People once walked everywhere and the streets were flooded with friendly conversations. Such peaceful scenes met an end when the Ford Model T came out in the early 1900s. Cars traveling at 45 miles per hour replaced the ambling pace of pedestrians. People quickly began to anger upon seeing their walking space invaded by hunks of metal. Simultaneously, car crashes and the deaths associated with them became more commonplace. By 1925, around two-thirds of all deaths in big cities came from auto accidents. Although demonstrations and activism against cars were common, the powerful and deadly speed of cars soon scared pedestrians off the street. As usual, the needs of the people were set aside for the expansion of business, and this was just the beginning.

In 1917, S. M. Williams, the sales manager of Garford Motor Truck Company, a company that produced cars for the federal government, promoted the idea of building an interstate highway to further decrease the need for other transportation. He created an organization named the HIA, or Highway Industries Association, with other industry giants to lobby for this purpose. Other business interest groups such as the American Automobile Association (AAA) and National Automobile Chamber of Commerce (NACC) joined with the HIA to promote national highways. Under Eisenhower during the 1950s, this plan finally received full federal funding with the Federal-Aid Highway Act. With this, the car industry completely reconstructed the world and built our dependence on automobiles.

The forceful push for car usage has not just come in the form of incentivizing car purchasing by creating highways. As mentioned previously, making other forms of transportation, such as walking, inconvenient is a common tactic used by car manufacturers and associated industry giants. Between 1938 and 1951, GM purchased the suppliers to the National City Lines (NCL), a public transportation company, to dismantle it in an attempt to maintain car supremacy over the roads. We simply have far less public transportation in general than other comparable nations, further increasing the dominance of cars.

Other than making non-car forms of transportation less accessible, our country continues to build houses that further increase car domination. The suburban sprawl that has exploded due to corporate-backed and historically racist zoning laws has served to further our dependence on cars. The fact that everyone already owns a car, because they are required, changes our mentality on how we should zone our land, leading to single-family zoning. Nowadays property owners fight tooth and nail to maintain this zoning which increases their property value. 

The detriments of our automobile takeover are observable in nearly every aspect of civilian life. It’s a well-known fact that cars release much more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than other comparable forms of transportation. The toxins that cars emit can also cause severe health complications. However, it is argued that such pollutants are a necessary tradeoff for modern lifestyles. Yet, we seem to forget that the only reason we need to go long distances to travel is because roads separate us from other places. In many places around the world, people do not need to leave their vicinity. But even when we do need long-distance travel, we should not rely on cars. Public transportation specifically trains or trams, not only are less emitting, but also have plenty of psychological benefits over cars.

Many studies have shown that we feel far more angry and isolated while driving. We simply do not see loud 5000-pound pieces of metal the same as people, and our actions on the road show it. This anger then also translates to more and more isolation, something that car-centric city planning does on its own. Forcing people to drive rather than walk is heavily detrimental to our mental health. Simply hearing the sounds of people outside, with birds singing and trees growing, can greatly benefit our health. Additionally, walking in populated areas fulfills the human need for socialization. Commuting by foot naturally increases the likelihood of making friends and connecting with those heading the same way. Subservience to cars and urban sprawl has been a large factor in why we have had fewer friendships and more mental health issues than we have historically. 

Cars and motorcycles are also by far the most deadly form of transportation with crashes killing 46,000 people per year in the U.S. Car domination does not just kill us through collisions but also due to the health problems that sedentary motion causes. We know that focusing society around cars has led to increased obesity and the health issues that relate to it. Creating walkable cities would be a massive step in the right direction to ending obesity. 

What we need is a total spatial revolution to reimagine entirely how we engage with the world around us. Reducing emissions through electric cars and trying to reduce car accidents through self-driving cars are nice ideas, but they do not address the core economic incentives that push car manufacturers to shape our society in such a significant way. The 15-minute city framework being pushed by the WEF is nice as well, but as long as this antidemocratic economic structure is in place, we will never truly be able to achieve what is needed for the benefit of humanity. Car propaganda runs deep, and the individualism that comes with it makes us feel that our car is part of our identity. The automobile industry relies on this, and we must end it.