Thoughts on Carjacked

As mentioned in Reading Non-Fiction, my goal is to share what motivated me to read the books and some thoughts that came from said reading.

Carjacked kept coming up in conversation with people, so much so that I was getting annoyed. A little skeptical, I decided to read it to at least be able to better converse with people. This is what I took away from the book.

The book’s premise is that we are all carsick in one way or other. It begins with the idea that “The United States of Automobiles” is an intertwining of myth-making and values. The automobile industry, along with media (television, movies, advertising), build the myth that the automobile embodies the American values of freedom and independence. The book also presents what motivates us to drive, the real costs of driving, and explains how we are all getting carsick.

carjackedThe point that really stuck with me about the myth building was that the car industry admits to conditioning people from childhood. At the time the book was published, Chevrolet had commercials on Nickelodeon and Pixar had released the movie Cars. Why is it so important (i.e. worth spending millions of dollars) to get kids interested in automobiles, something they can’t drive until they are 16 or older?

The idea that cars are a form of self-expression has always been a little lost on me and David. When our classmates were cruising in limos and antique cars to prom, we slapped on our rollerblades. Yes, our parents were a little displeased, but for us, it just made sense to go around the block in our rollerblades. That’s not to say we are against driving or owning cars. Rather, we see driving as just a mode of transportation.

We know too many people who have become slaves to their vehicles. They need money to pay off their loan, buy gas to get to work, keep the car working to get them to work, and cover insurance. Many housing costs (e.g. parking, mortgage, property tax and maintenance) are also intertwined with automobiles. If their car breaks down/stolen, they miss work, which means less money to pay those costs. Rather than bringing the promised freedom, their autos catch them up in a vicious cycle, causing them stress.

Yet, it is not just individuals who are feeling the stress. The book reports that one in five US dollars went to transportation costs in 2003. Having worked for two municipalities, I know first hand that a lot of those dollars go towards road building, road maintenance, and parking. The stress on the transportation system happens when those dollars are just focused on servicing automobiles and not on all modes: walking, cycling, transit and driving. Every trip begins with walking, even if it is to a vehicle, so why do our systems not support this?

The book also presents the physical costs of automobiles: sickness, injury and fatality. Those who work in automobile related fields (truck drivers, mechanics, parkade attendants, etc.) suffer from high levels of sickness. Drivers, surrounded by metal, may have a false sense of safety and drive accordingly. Pedestrians, the most vulnerable road users, may not feel comfortable walking in certain spaces due to the speed and volume of automobiles. Many people think “safety” is an engineering problem instead of seeing it as a personal responsibility.

So, was I carsick? Well, I did not want my car to be a financial burden, but it was. Nor did I want the stress. That meant we sent our car to the scrap lot and signed up for Modo and Car2Go. We bought a bike trailer. That may seem radical, but living in a city where walking, biking and transit are prioritized, the choice was easier to make. Now, we are living more in line with our values.

Are you carsick?

One thought on “Thoughts on Carjacked

  1. I saw a kids park in Cochin, India that was sponsored by an automobile group. It had intersections and traffic lights. It amused me for two reasons: first, no one follows traffic laws here, and second the kids weren’t in little cars as intended but were riding bikes around the fake streets.

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