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[personal||culture] The costs of owning a car - Lakeshore
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Jay Lake
Date: 2012-12-13 05:58
Subject: [personal||culture] The costs of owning a car
Security: Public
Tags:cars, culture, guns, personal
I hold an Oregon drivers license. I own an automobile. I belong to the American Automobile Association. That makes me part of car culture in this country. In accepting the perceived benefits of owning a car, I am also taking a responsibility for the risks and social costs of widespread automobile use.

There are over 250,000,000 registered passenger vehicles in the United States.1 There are over 210,000,000 licensed drivers in the United States.2 We are almost all of us in his country part of car culture. Almost all of us take responsibility for the risks and social costs of widespread automobile use.

As it happens, for my personal lifestyle, though I am low-mileage driver by US standards, mostly due to having a job working at home and thus no daily commute (we're ignoring the effects of cancer on my driving for the sake of this discussion), I and my household are not in a position to go car-free. The location of Nuevo Rancho Lake is such that many of life's needed errands are impractical without an automobile. We do not live in a transit-dense area, and the time penalty for taking such mass transit as is available overwhelms our schedules.

For my own part, when [info]the_child is older, in the somewhat unlikely event that I have regained my health, I would like to move to a dense, mixed-urban neighborhood where my automobile dependency can be sharply reduced or eliminated completely. At this point in my life, that's largely wishful thinking. I continue to be reliant on automobile transportation both directly — to be driven to my copious medical appointments by friends or relatives, for example — and indirectly — the errands to the grocery store, post office and so forth that are run on my behalf, largely by Lisa Costello in her car.

This means I am benefiting from automobiles, even if I no longer operate them personally for reasons of my own health and everyone's safety. In benefiting from them, I accepting their costs. Like any aspect of life, car culture is both things, benefits and costs.

I accept that in the United States, we experience about 30,000 deaths per year (10.3876 per 100,000 population)3. (Oddly enough, this is very similar to the number of gun deaths per year.) That number is down about 25% over the last ten years, apparently mostly due to safety improvements in automobile design and construction. In opting to own and use a car, I am participating in a system which kills 30,000 of my fellow citizens every year. I own a piece of those deaths as surely as if I were driving the car that killed them. To pretend otherwise would be disingenuous of me. The moral calculus here isn't "ooh, killing machines!", but rather a balance of the overall social benefit of nearly universal transportation with the carrying costs of its risks and inefficiencies. Every one of those 30,000 dead set out with some purpose, most of them by car, that they judged to be worth the risk to their life. Just I like judge ever car trip I make to be worth the risk to my life. That 0.01% risk of my death on that particular trip is the cost of doing business.

I also accept that in the United States, the average passenger vehicle emits 108 pounds of hydrocarbons, 854 pounds of carbon monoxide, 55.8 pounds of oxides on nitrogen, 16,034 pounds of carbon dioxide, and 813 gallons of gasoline evaporates.4 (I'm not sure about that last number, but I'm not in a position right now to research it further. The rest meet a test-of-reasonableness for me, but if someone has better data, let me know.) Again, by participating in car culture, I own a piece of that pollution as surely as if I were dumping industrial chemicals into the air by hand for the sheer joy of seeing the birds fall out of the sky. Again, a balance of social benefits and net risk. One that is highly arguable, of course, but every day 200,000,000 million of us get in our cars and pump out those tailpipe emissions. This is of course changing with the increasing emphasis on hybrids and more efficient conventional engines, as well as be affected by other choices such as mass transit or bicycle use. But that massive scale of pollution is the cost of doing business.

As I said, I belong to AAA. That's an organization which among other things lobbies for motorists' concerns and increased government support for car culture. I am responsible for the things they promote and achieve, whether or not I personally agree with choices to, say, fund a new highway and not build a light rail system somewhere with that same money. I own that, it's part of car culture.

I'm not even talking about many other costs of the automobile, from the way Federal and State budgets are skewed toward road infrastructure to the impact of fossil fuel extraction and distribution to the foreign wars we have fought over access to oil to the misplaced research and development dollars that could have improved our way out all of this decades ago if it were not for car culture. Those are all part of the cost of doing business.

The point I'm making is that in choosing to own and use an automobile, in choosing to participate in car culture, all of these things belong to me. The deaths, the pollution, the foreign wars, the misplaced spending. And I accept them as part of the cost of doing business, given the benefits I perceive the automobile giving me. I would be a moral coward not to do so. I would be in denial. If I didn't take that responsibility, I'd be accepting the emotional and personal rewards of automobile ownership without acknowledging any of the costs.

How this applies to handgun licensing, gun ownership and NRA membership is best left as an exercise for the reader. I will simply say that we are all responsible for the consequences of our beliefs. We live in a society that will barely acknowledge the cost of widespread private automobile ownership, while pretending that widespread private gun ownership is some holy right without consequence at all.

Bullshit. My belief that I should own a car places responsibility on me for death, pollution and numerous other social costs. Your belief that you should own a gun is no more free of such costs.

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chris_gerrib
User: chris_gerrib
Date: 2012-12-13 15:24 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
No, allowing gun ownership is not without costs. As I said, quoting somebody else, "you can't Nerf the world." From the article:

At the risk of sounding callous, freedom and dignity are going to cost some dead bodies every year. As long as people have guns, some folks are going to get shot with them; that's just the way it is. As long as people have cars, folks are going to get liquored up and wrap them around trees.
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houseboatonstyx: smaller-healing-buddha
User: houseboatonstyx
Date: 2012-12-14 01:33 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:smaller-healing-buddha
Having grown up rural eating venison, I have a lot of sympathy for food hunting, defending farm animals from predators, self-defense when miles away from 911. I expect most gun hobbyists are harmless.

Cars obviously give us freedom of travel and are more dignified than riding the bus.

But guns as a 'freedom and dignity' issue...!? Still, I don't recall any spree shooters turning out to be of the Second Amendment Militia(tm) pre-occupation.
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russ: quo vadis
User: goulo
Date: 2012-12-14 10:52 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:quo vadis
Considering all the social and ecological and health costs of individual cars, it would sure be useful for US society to get over the idea that riding the bus (and other public transport) is undignified. :/
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madrobins
User: madrobins
Date: 2012-12-13 15:33 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Until we moved west, we'd never had a car. We now have one car for three drivers. At times this makes life rather fraught (my husband works in Marin; I work in Palo Alto; we live in San Francisco). And my 16-year-old lobbied fiercely for a car of her own for a while, until we sat down and explained the economics and environmental concerns. Now she just wants to borrow the car more.

In SF we have ZipCar (for profit) and CityCarShare (non-profit co-op). I usually commute to work via BART and Caltrain, with a 15 minute walk at the end of the trip, which is nice and healthy, I guess.

It's nice to have a car. It's certainly convenient. But keeping our ownership down to one vehicle forces us to be mindful about its use.
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houseboatonstyx
User: houseboatonstyx
Date: 2012-12-14 07:34 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
When we were two people with one car, it added up to a lot of extra mileage. When I had an appointment in our town, I first had to drive my husband to his military base job (60 mile round trip), then make my own 10 mile round trip to my appointment -- then make another 60 mile round trip to fetch my husband home from the base. A single car meant almost double miles.
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madrobins
User: madrobins
Date: 2012-12-14 07:45 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
There's no denying it takes a lot of planning, and it's frequently a pain in the butt. My husband cannot get to his job without a car; I can get to mine by train, so he gets the car. And when we moved to the Bay Area and were looking for a home, we specifically looked for one that would be close to public transportation (not least because I have a NYC-bred belief that kids should learn to navigate the place they live on their own as much as possible...a belief that caused some of our new neighbors to look at me askance).
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houseboatonstyx
User: houseboatonstyx
Date: 2012-12-14 08:07 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
That's an additional problem. What if all that planning time (as well as the waiting-for-the-bus time etc) were spent working for green causes in more active ways? Such as campaigning for a good candidate (or running for local office oneself); raising money for green energy research; making an A+ science project; taking (or teaching) a related course at a community college....
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jordan179
User: jordan179
Date: 2012-12-13 16:34 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Most of the negative effects of mass automobile ownership will vanish in the next couple of decades, owing to a convergence of technologies. Cars will be driven by computer and run off electric motors: vastly reducing the accident rate and pollution (even if we're stupid enough to stay with a fossil fuel based power grid, large stationary fossil plants cause much less pollution per megawatt than do automobile engines).
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houseboatonstyx: smaller-healing-buddha
User: houseboatonstyx
Date: 2012-12-14 01:00 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:smaller-healing-buddha
Most of the negative effects of mass automobile ownership will vanish in the next couple of decades, owing to a convergence of technologies.

Dunno about the robot drivers, but I do thihnk it's more productive to spend our time driving to lobby for greener energy, than spending it biking or riding a bus. Every gallon we save today just makes gas cheaper for the bulldozers and SUVs.
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jordan179
User: jordan179
Date: 2012-12-13 16:36 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Banning guns won't stop criminals from having them, and the main problem with gun ownership is criminal gun ownership. At most you'd see the number of guns in criminal hands go down a little, and primarily in the sense that only serious criminals would tend to have them. But then, serious criminals are the ones most likely to do serious harm with them.
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dionysus1999
User: dionysus1999
Date: 2012-12-14 14:18 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Dichotomy much? You sound like a mouthpiece of the NRA.
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jordan179
User: jordan179
Date: 2012-12-14 16:07 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Dichotomy much?

Between "serious" and "less serious" criminals? Yes, but not all dichotomies are false. There is a major psychological difference, which has real-world effects in their actions, between those who live by violent crime and those who live by non-violent crimes or will only commit crimes of opportunity. Habitual violent offenders are very likely to get handguns and use them to commit crimes, regardless of what the law says on the matter; less violent or less habitual offenders are less likely to do so.

You sound like a mouthpiece of the NRA.

... and you don't even grasp why that's not a rational argument either for or against my statements.
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shelly_rae
User: shelly_rae
Date: 2012-12-13 18:18 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I'm very anti-death penalty and one of the reasons is that the death penalty makes me responsible for killing people--some of whom have been proven innocent--fat lot of good that did them. Texas, one of those "you'll have to pry my gun out of my cold dead hands" states has executed 10 people so far this year. The ripples spread. Would the murdered people be alive if the murderers had less access to guns? I hope so, I believe so.
The death penalty doesn't stop people from killing. But gun and ammunition control would definitely help.

Like you, I know how to use a gun, I have awards for marksmanship, I've killed animals which I then butchered and ate. </p>

I know guns--and I do not feel at all safe when I see someone carrying a gun. I see them all the time. I've had them flashed at me. I witnessed 5 murderers--4 by guns. I've seen people randomly shoot in the air, at buildings, at animals. None of these people were carrying hunting rifles. They had guns entirely designed for killing people. There is no need for such guns on our streets, in our stores, or in our homes.

This year in Seattle guns in the hands of a mentally ill person killed four of my friends in a cafe. He went on to kill another person before turning the gun on himself. A child found a gun under a car seat and killed a sibling. Another brought a gun to school and shot a friend "accidentally". No one was made safer here because they had guns. Not even the police officer who lost a child with his own gun and bullet. Many others died here this year victims of random shootings, quarrels, drunken parties, exuberance, illness. They should all be alive, making music, making love, making crayons drawings for the fridge.

We need strict gun control. We need strict ammo control. And we need licenses, testing and rules for all the guns out there.

The USA is no longer a frontier wilderness but even when it was? Those heroic pioneers? They mostly killed each other with guns not 'wild Indians.' the myth and nostalgia is not and never has been valid. A 'well trained militia' is not the gun in your neighbors' dresser or glove box.

Yes, I feel strongly about this. Yes, I've had a gun pointed at me.
Anon

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The Green Knight: car
User: green_knight
Date: 2012-12-13 20:14 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:car
Car culture includes...

- controlling who has access to cars in general (people judged mature enough and healthy enough to drive)
- withdrawing that access when there is evidence for, and sometimes even just suspicion of, temporary unfitness - that covers both vehicles that are not safe and drivers who aren't (drunk, drugged, illness)
- creating an environment where it's not just easier to be a safe driver, but where being an unsafe driver carries penalties (financial and legal) _combined with_ raising awareness for safe practice, and actively combatting a cultural environment in which not using child seats, not wearing seatbelts, drunk driving, texting while driving etc etc are seen as cool at worst and no big deal at best.

This list, too, is left as an excercise to the reader.

(Car owner. Currently voluntarily using public transport since moving to an environment where that is possible.)
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russ: quo vadis
User: goulo
Date: 2012-12-14 11:00 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:quo vadis
I confess I'd never thought much about AAA until reading about it here, that AAA actually lobbies against public transport, bike lanes, etc. I confirm it with a bit of googling.

E.g. http://www.transalt.org/files/newsroom/media/2001/010101amicus.html

That is truly pathetically selfish and short-sightedly "carbarian" of AAA.

In the alternate universe where I am an AAA member, I'm writing them to complain of this and cancelling my membership. The personal conveniences of roadside service and "free" maps etc are NOT worth financially contributing to a group which engages in such lobbying against obviously good improvements and projects...
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Rowan aka: The Seticat: gen - green yin-yang - unexpectedbox
User: seticat
Date: 2012-12-14 03:38 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:gen - green yin-yang - unexpectedbox
I am as responsible for the actions and environmental effects of vehicle ownership [car, motorcycle, etc] as I am for personal weapon ownership.

I've in a rural environment so I can't really be 'car less', but I can be responsible by limiting my trips, grouping my trips, keeping my vehicle in a 'health state' so as to keep emissions as low as possible, etc. The same with my water usage, my garbage output, my power usage, etc.

I am personally responsible for any and all of my actions and have never felt otherwise.


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ericjamesstone
User: ericjamesstone
Date: 2012-12-14 06:15 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
A couple of years ago my car was totaled in an accident that gave me whiplash. (Fortunately, after some physical therapy I recovered fully.) The other driver turned left in front of me when she should not have, so the police officer assigned responsibility for the accident to her, and her insurance company paid to replace the car. Meanwhile, my own insurance company paid my medical bills (under the personal injury protection provisions.)

However, I didn't get anything to compensate me for the pain and suffering I went through with the whiplash. Since you have now admitted that, by participating in car culture, you are responsible for everything that happens involving cars, I expect you to send me a compensation check ASAP.

Not really, of course. Because spreading responsibility to society at large rather than individuals is a liberal pastime, not a conservative one. The car accident was the fault of the person who turned left when she shouldn't have. (I understand her mistake -- twenty-some-odd years earlier I caused an accident by turning left when I shouldn't have, and I took responsibility for it. Raised my insurance rates for several years.)

While, of course, there could not have been a car accident if there were no cars, that does not mean the car manufacturers were at fault for the accident. (If the accident had been caused by brake failure, then fault might indeed lie with the manufacturer, but that was not the case here.) While neither of our cars would have been driving that day if there were no gasoline, that does not mean the oil companies or OPEC were at fault for the accident.

You are not responsible for the accident I was in. Unless you have caused a fatal car accident, you are not responsible for killing any of the 30,000 who die each year in car accidents.

I don't own a gun. If I did own a gun, and I killed someone with it (whether accidentally or on purpose), I would be responsible for that person's death. My parents would not be responsible for that death, I would. Mitt Romney would not be responsible for that death, I would. The GOP (and pro-Second-Amendment Democrats) would not be responsible for that death, I would. The NRA would not be responsible for that death, I would.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2012-12-14 16:36 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I'm running off to the oncology clinic shortly, so don't have time for a decent response, but I think you and I are using the word "responsibility" differently here. And I think that distinction might be real important to how we disagree on a lot of stuff. (A point you also make in your comment.)

I do hope you've recovered fully from the accident.
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Gary Emenitove
User: garyomaha
Date: 2012-12-14 14:40 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Living here in Omaha, where we have a truly sad transit system (bus only), no light rail or streetcars, one Amtrak route that passes through in darkness both directions, but lots and lots and highways, Interstates, and a decent airport, I can only say sigh.

I guess in my ignorance, I just presumed that anyone in Portland who wants to use mass transit, can do so. But of course there are areas without such options, and of course mass transit cannot go everywhere. Perhaps our dream of moving there and ditching the cars is unreasonable? Well, maybe we'll ditch one of the cars.

(I realize your point was to compare car and gun responsibility, but I wanted to focus on transit perceptions.)
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jordan179
User: jordan179
Date: 2012-12-14 16:11 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Mass transit works just fine for single people or childless couples, who work with their minds, who are reasonably prosperous (so they don't have to buy in bulk to save money) and live in a large city. It works very poorly for families, whose breadwinners work with their hands, who live near the poverty line or for people who do not live in a large city. Technological progress might change this equation, but the sort of technological progress which might do so would also make cars cheaper and safer, as well.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2012-12-14 16:35 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Actually, transit here is terrific, and it's quite possible to live car-free, or at least minimally carred up. Just not in my neighborhood...
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