Is Driving the New Smoking?

W Christian Mental Ward
by W Christian Mental Ward
is driving the new smoking

copyright Chris Bruntlett

I love to smoke. That’s not a cool thing to admit; in fact it’s socially irresponsible. But there is something very satisfying about lighting up, and the sensation of that first drag. For me it’s not about nicotine. No I enjoy the act of smoking. Fortunately I also love to run and the two habits are rarely complementary. Save the occasional relapse, I quit some 16 years ago. But if smokes were only as bad for me as coffee, I would still light up, social pressures be dammed.

Apparently it’s a personal inclination. The automobile as evil is not new, but Chris Bruntlett wants to start a social trend that equates driving with smoking. He wants a communal backlash and public shaming of drivers. I am not upset because he hates cars; I am upset because I can almost agree with him.

In a recent submission to Vancouver magazine Hush, self-professed bike-geek Bruntlett calls driving “selfish, anti-social, unhealthy, and destructive.”

“Let’s face it: when someone gets into a car, they are entering a bubble. Not just a physical bubble of metal and glass, but also a figurative one, where all logic and reasoning is barred from entering…”

Apparently, we have shared the same morning commute.

“…They seem oblivious to the simple truth that the motor vehicle is the most inefficient mode of transportation ever devised. Without thinking, they squander millions of years of stored solar energy to haul around two tons of metal, fiberglass, machinery, and electronics, along with their meager frame. This machine demands a colossal amount of space: 300 square feet when parked, and 3,000 square feet when moving at 50 km/hr. As a result, we carelessly hand over vast chunks of our public realm to the parasitic automobile; space that could be put to much better use.”

The hybrid owners reading this can remove your smug expression now. It’s not just the pollution; it’s driving. According the Bruntlett, your green car is just as evil as my El Camino.

I am not entirely convinced the automobile is less efficient than say, an F-4 Phantom, but my old 1978 Mercury Colony park wagon came pretty close. Much has been opined about the swelling mass of even the most frugal of automobiles. I agree we could put that space to better use. Freeways are like your mother-in-law; they’re getting wider and uglier.

Jay Leno noted that alternative transportation will save the automobile in the same ilk the automobile saved the horse. Horses are now kept for sporting and pleasure. As a result, the quality of life for most horses is infinitely superior to the pedestrian mare of the old west. As better ways of moving people about arise, the car will become less of a need and more about leisure and entertainment. I’m surprisingly comfortable with that.

No worries, I won’t be scuttling my fleet anytime soon, and it’s not Chris Bruntlett’s logic winning me over. The shock numbers of his “warning label” for example;

copyright Chris Bruntlett

“Perhaps no other symptom of car culture is more prevalent – and ignored – than the daily carnage that takes place on our streets. Every single day on this planet, 3,561 people suffer a horrific death inside a car. If another consumer product – such as a toaster – was causing this amount of death and destruction, we would immediately fix or ban the toaster. Instead, we treat road deaths as inevitable, collateral damage in our modern lives.”

He sneaks “3,561” in right after “planet.” Quick Georgia public-school math tells me that this is just under 1.3 million annually. Despite the World Health Organization listing Road Injury as the 9th leading cause of death, that figure could multiply 10 times the current rate and still not equate to 2% of the global population. I am not being flippant about 1.3 million, but diarrhea-related diseases claimed 1.9 million in the same period, one could argue about the horrific nature of that death as well our ability to prevent it.

I don’t dislike Chris Bruntlett, in fact I respect him. He is a man of passion, and puts his money where his mouth is, riding a bicycle in hilly and (in the winter) wet, Vancouver. I can’t agree with his total mindset, but I can see a version of his world;

“We need a massive public education campaign to remind folks how dangerous, expensive and inefficient cars really are. In doing so, we might finally break the cycle of car addiction, and we’ll all be a little healthier, wealthier and happier for it.”

The way I see it, that means a utopian vision of easy, affordable and reliable public transportation that will take me to work, social engagements and the Midwest safely, efficiently and with the same pleasure I get from hopping in my Land Rover and jetting hallway across the US. The air will be clean and the cities full of green areas for children to play. The costs of that network and its upkeep would be staggering, but if it keeps those promises I’m in.

But I won’t quit driving.

Because in that utopian world, those of us who insist of feeding our automotive addiction will become the smokers in your building, achieving solidarity through being outcasts. The fringe of society will huddle in forgotten corners of your neighborhood around an idling engine we maintain for our own pleasure and enjoyment. Mirroring the evolution of the picnic area behind your parking lot, vast stretches of highway will be re-purposed as designated “driving areas.” They will exist just for me and my smelly cohorts. The stench of gasoline will permeate our clothes, and the grease under our nails will stand out like nicotine stains. The masses of society will cast disapproving stares, and we’ll smile back.

No, the automobile as evil is not new, but neither is the automobile as rebellion.

W. Christian Mental Ward has owned over 70 cars and destroyed most of them. He is married to the most patient woman in the world; actually rides a bicycle and so far in 2013 has run over 630 miles.

Join the conversation
2 of 125 comments
  • MBella MBella on Sep 19, 2013

    Cars are only inefficient if time has no value to you. If it does, the car is pretty nice. Not everyone can afford to live and work near public transport.

  • Replica Replica on Sep 20, 2013

    I can't imagine the even higher cost of urban living if we didn't have as many cars. As more urban real estate becomes even more desirable, due to limiting cars/roads etc, I'd rather just make a car payment and maintenance.

  • ToolGuy CXXVIII comments?!?
  • ToolGuy I did truck things with my truck this past week, twenty-odd miles from home (farther than usual). Recall that the interior bed space of my (modified) truck is 98" x 74". On the ride home yesterday the bed carried a 20 foot extension ladder (10 feet long, flagged 14 inches past the rear bumper), two other ladders, a smallish air compressor, a largish shop vac, three large bins, some materials, some scrap, and a slew of tool cases/bags. It was pretty full, is what I'm saying.The range of the Cybertruck would have been just fine. Nothing I carried had any substantial weight to it, in truck terms. The frunk would have been extremely useful (lock the tool cases there, out of the way of the Bed Stuff, away from prying eyes and grasping fingers -- you say I can charge my cordless tools there? bonus). Stainless steel plus no paint is a plus.Apparently the Cybertruck bed will be 78" long (but over 96" with the tailgate folded down) and 60-65" wide. And then Tesla promises "100 cubic feet of exterior, lockable storage — including the under-bed, frunk and sail pillars." Underbed storage requires the bed to be clear of other stuff, but bottom line everything would have fit, especially when we consider the second row of seats (tools and some materials out of the weather).Some days I was hauling mostly air on one leg of the trip. There were several store runs involved, some for 8-foot stock. One day I bummed a ride in a Roush Mustang. Three separate times other drivers tried to run into my truck (stainless steel panels, yes please). The fuel savings would be large enough for me to notice and to care.TL;DR: This truck would work for me, as a truck. Sample size = 1.
  • Art Vandelay Dodge should bring this back. They could sell it as the classic classic classic model
  • Surferjoe Still have a 2013 RDX, naturally aspirated V6, just can't get behind a 4 banger turbo.Also gloriously absent, ESS, lane departure warnings, etc.
  • ToolGuy Is it a genuine Top Hand? Oh, I forgot, I don't care. 🙂