The benefit of hindsight…

As a species it is probably fair to say that we don’t always have the answers.

Thanks to giant leaps in scientific discovery, we often find that just because something has become “normal”, it doesn’t always mean that it was right.

You live and learn…

It wasn’t all that long ago that smoking was everywhere. It was in our movies, in our TV programmes and in our magazines. It was ‘cool’; everyone was doing it.

It was some time later, probably when people started to become ill that it started to dawn on people that perhaps smoking wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

Attempts by tobacco companies to even suggest that doctors endorsed their products now look absolutely ridiculous, considering what we have learned since.

The World Health Organisation estimates that the deaths of 5 million people each year can be directly attributed to smoking, globally.

“Wrong” just doesn’t quite cut it, does it.

This brings us neatly onto motoring. The World Health Organisation says that in 2013 there were 1.25 million deaths directly attributed to motoring, globally.

As with the smoking statistics, these motoring deaths do not take into account the externalities –the deaths from pollution; from inactivity; and from obesity. Inactivity alone is said to be responsible for 3.2 million global deaths each year.

Add onto that the 7 million global deaths from air pollution and 2.8 million from obesity and we have the sort of death toll that tobacco could only dream of.

It may seem unfair to attribute each one of those 13 million annual deaths to cars, but think about it. How much are we not doing, particularly here in Cardiff where you are never too far from a busy road.

How many of us are put off from going for a walk or cycle, either because there is a car parked outside that we are paying for, or because we don’t want to be hit by one? How many of us feel they have to travel somewhere just to get outside somewhere safe and away from the constant drone of traffic? How are we going to get there? Perhaps we are even driving just to get away from all the driving…

Motor-centric planning changes how we live our lives and changes what we consider is normal. Adverts like the BMW ad above are “normal”, despite being somewhat irresponsible for suggesting that being able to get from 0-60 in 3.9 seconds is beneficial in an urban environment. Sadly, Mercedes-Benz USA went one step further into the ridiculous.

However, Mercedes and BMW are merely symptoms of a deeper sense of entitlement that pervades the motoring world –the so-called Motoring Industrial Complex.

Will we learn?

If we were going to treat motoring the way we have tobacco, we would be banning car adverts; putting car dealers behind high walls and taxing the sale of cars into oblivion.

In 2000 the average fuel economy of the cars sold was 35.3 MPG. In 2016 this had only increased to 52.2 MPG for petrol cars, thanks to the apparent love-affair with increasingly large vehicles (table ENV0103). Then again, there isn’t a great deal of incentive to improve fuel economy when the cost of petrol – 94.1p in 2006 has only risen to 117.3p in 2017 (table ENV0105).

We also allow car companies caught cheating on their emissions tests to continue to sell cars. If we were serious about saving lives, this would have to change.

Until we start to see the motor industry for what it is –a public health disaster, nothing will change.

We have to start unpicking this tangled web and actually start putting people first. Putting an end to lifestyle marketing from car manufacturers would help.

Perhaps we will look back in 20 years time at the car ads of today. Perhaps we will consider them quaint, just like the “doctors smoke camels” for the new age.

Perhaps we’ll even start to see adverts for city bicycles instead. Now, wouldn’t that be something.

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