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A British view of US auto-mania

Posted Mar 02 2011 3:00am

A local story of an incident that happened not too far from where I live made it all the way to the UK and was reported in the Guardian.

A woman from Summerville, South Carolina (Left.) was driving her own children and a neighbor kid to school.

As she neared the school she encountered a group of schoolchildren walking in the middle of the road. (There was no sidewalk on that particular street.)

She honked at them but they refused to move; so she drove into them, knocking down a 12 year old, two 13 year olds, and one 14. None were seriously hurt, three were treated on the scene, and one was taken to the hospital.

She told police, “I wanted to knock some sense into them.” (That statement sounds familiar.) When the story ran on my local paper’s website, I posted the following comment:

“This incident that involved children walking in the middle of the road, is exactly the same issue as cyclists on the road that everyone gets their shorts in an uproar over.

Even though kids can be annoying when they won’t move out of your way, you have to deal with it; you can’t go running them down.

They had a perfect right to be on a public street. It has nothing to do with the size of your vehicle, or whether you pay road tax; it is a basic human right to travel from A to B on a public highway.

It doesn’t matter if you are in a car, riding a bicycle, or walking; whoever was there first basically has the right of way.”

This woman made an extremely poor choice; she has been charged with four counts of first-degree assault and battery and could face up to ten years in jail. Would it have hurt her to drop her kids off at that point and let them walk the rest of the way to school?

It always amazes me, the sense of entitlement that car ownership invokes. A person would never push to the front of a line at a theatre or at the supermarket; or scream at people to “Hurry it up,” it would be considered the height of rudeness. Yet it seems perfectly normal for some to honk or yell at anyone impeding their rate of travel on a public street or highway.

The Guardian used this story in part to illustrate America’s obsession with the automobile. While I agree with that premise, the article is filled with extreme exaggerations, like stories of people shooting themselves in the foot to get a handicap parking spot.

It also seems a little strange coming from a British publication, as from what I hear and read the UK is fast approaching “Auto-mania” status itself.

The big difference is that the UK does not have the luxury of the amount of space the US has.

There are tiny villages in Britain where whole communities could quite easily fit in the area occupied by an average US supermarket or strip mall parking lot.

The Guardian points out that in the US, whole city blocks are devoted to car parking. This is true, and how often do you see any retail business parking lot more than half full; such a waste of space. And of course all this wasted space and urban sprawl means greater distances from our homes, to the store, or to our workplace, making automobile ownership a necessity for most people.

If Britain devoted as much space to the automobile as America does the entire country would be paved with concrete and asphalt. The UK should be grateful they did not have the luxury of space to waste; returning to a more sustainable lifestyle will be far easier than it will be for the United States. 

The Guardian also mentions that Americans used to laugh at the Chinese for the way they traveled to work by bicycle in their millions.

Now thanks largely to the outsourcing of our manufacturing jobs to countries like China, they have prospered, and Chinese workers are buying cars for the first time.

Now they are competing for the ever dwindling world oil supply, which will force the price up that the US consumer has to pay.

Other countries like India will be the next to follow and the situation can only get worse. The whole American lifestyle and the way its infrastructure is designed, has always revolved around the automobile and cheap gasoline.

I predict that before very much longer people will find themselves spending their entire salary to pay for, maintain, and fuel their car. They will be working to run a car that they need to get to work. It will no longer be viable for families to own two or more cars.

All of a sudden, people riding bicycles will not look so stupid.



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