12 December 2006
Site of the Crash Four Months Later
Calamity at Carfree.comOn 5 October 2006, the neighbor boy was "expressing himself" by driving 60 MPH on a country road where 30 MPH is too fast. He came over the crest of a hill, left 147 feet of skid marks, and smashed into my parents' stopped Prius still doing about 35 MPH. My father is now recovered from his injuries, but my mother is still on a ventilator two months later. She apparently suffered no head injury and is making progress towards getting off the ventilator and an eventual return to a more or less normal life.
This issue of Carfree Times is the first work I have been able to do since the crash, except for outlining the notes that form the basis of the Feature Article: "Improving Road Safety." As a result of all of this, I am leaving Portugal and returning to the USA. I hope to get the next issue out more nearly on time. Work on Carfree Design Manual has been suspended, but I hope to sharpen my electronic pencil early next year and get the book to the publisher, who is still eager for it.
I would be obliged if people would not send e-mail with their sympathies - I have too much to do right now as it is. Things may get back to more nearly normal in a couple of months.
Support for Carfree.comMichael Hoag of Village At donated money to keep Carfree.com on line from June 2006 through March 2007. Two anonymous donors paid for April and May 2007. Bernard Delloye paid for hosting in June 2007. Thanks to all our contributors for their generosity. Please see the Support Page if you can consider making a contribution.
Carfree Times in GermanThanks to the tireless work of Ulrich Nehls, Carfree Times has now been available in German since issue #32 (September 2003). The index is at http://rzsunhome.rrze.uni-erlangen.de/~thze00wm/auto.html. The German edition is usually available about a month after the English edition; a link to the German edition is added near the top of the English edition when the German text is available.
Carfree Cities AvailabilityBoth the paperback and hardcover editions of Carfree Cities are widely available. For details, see the Ordering Information page.
ThanksThanks to the many stringers who have forwarded stories to Carfree Times. I've stopped naming people for fear of slighting someone by overlooking a name.
WCN web site for full information regarding the network's activities.
Towards Carfree Cities VITCFC VI was held in Bogotá this past September. By all accounts, this conference, the first outside of Europe, was a big success. Conference details are available, as is a conference blog.
Towards Carfree Cities VII & VIIITowards Carfree Cities VII will be held in Istanbul, 27-31 August 2007. Proposals are being sought for hosting TCFC VIII in 2008. See www.worldcarfree.net/conference for details on how to submit a proposal. Proposals from North America are especially encouraged. Deadline is 15 December, so hurry!
Street Conversion Design Competition WinnersOn 22 September 2006, WCN held an international Street Conversion Design Competition at the conference in Bogotá. Submitted designs aimed to transform streets into lively carfree spaces. The winners were chosen by a panel of judges from the network's "Together to Revitalise our Urban Environment" (TRUE) project. Lloyd Wright, a consultant in carfree development, based in Quito, Ecuador, facilitated the judging.
In the parking space category, the top three winners were:
Network ProjectsThe network sponsors many projects in which you can get involved, ranging from the annual Ecotopia Biketour to the Carfree Area Pilot Project. See the List of Projects at and contact one of the project coordinators. The network is always seeking motivated young people (EU citizens aged 18-25) to join the network's Prague-based team for a year's internship.
Russia, Oil, and the FutureThe Russian Bear is growling, according to a recent article in Asia Times. Russia was eclipsed following the collapse of the USSR and the grave economic difficulties of the Yeltsin era. Russian president Vladimir Putin aims to put Russia back on the map and to do so following a different model from Western trans-national capitalism. In particular, international energy security will be addressed by the Russians and will not follow the highest-bidder, free-market approach favored by Western nations.
Russia has huge reserves of energy and is close to the rapidly expanding economies of east and south Asia. Fixed, bilateral, long-term supply contracts are envisioned as the mechanism to be used in supplying customers. The model stands in opposition to the US model of a "liberal" international oil market in which all trades are denominated in US dollars. "The West relies on the current order for its energy security. It cannot function without it, and therefore the order is its single point of weakness." Russia intends to use this as a lever to shift the balance of world power in its own direction.
By the summer of 2000, Putin was already moving against the Western oligarchs who were stripping Russia of its natural resources and industries with the full complicity of the West. This lies behind many of the power plays we have seen in Russia since he took office. Russia's rich natural resources have been brought under nearly direct control of the Kremlin and used as a tool in managing international relations. Western oil companies have been particularly hard hit by the changes, which are seen as a frontal move against US economic domination.
Russia and China were the leaders in opposing the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 and succeeded in shifting the burden of the invasion and occupation onto the USA and the UK (saving aside some token assistance from other nations, most of which have already withdrawn from this lawless and savage invasion). Russia has demonstrated that the sole-superpower status of the USA can be successfully challenged. Putin said at the July Group of Eight summit: "We want to form a stable system of legal, political and economic relations that ensures a reliable demand and stable offer of energy resources on the international market." He sees long-term contracts as enhancing the economic security of energy-producing nations.
David Goldwyn, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, recently testified before the US House Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats and International Relations that "the United States is more energy-insecure today than it has been in nearly 30 years. We are insecure because the global oil market is more fragile, more competitive, and more volatile than it has been in decades." He further stated that "the growing [energy] dependence of rising powers such as China and India is rapidly eroding US global power and influence around the world" as those rising powers increasingly enter bilateral long-term contracts with suppliers, ever greater numbers of which do not allow free market access by the West's oil majors to production and exploration acreage and which are creating a strategically tight market for the rest of the world."
This flies in the face of the contemporary liquid global market which efficiently shifts supplies in response to market demand and changing prices. China apparently has little faith in the market mechanism for such critical supplies as oil. Energy supplies are increasingly seen as strategic concerns and no longer as simply the workings of an international market to which national economies must respond. Bilateral partnerships are the new tool, with the consuming nations often financing the development of the energy sources that will supply them.
Only 9% or 10% of global reserves are now controlled by the West's major oil companies, a shocking deterioration of their former dominant position, and this at a time when the USA relies on the international market to supply nearly 60% of its energy. The oil majors are increasingly unable to replace reserves as they are consumed.
A related threat to the West's economic dominance is the end of the US dollar as the world's principal trading and reserve currency. The dollar enjoys a premium in exchange markets because of its critical position in the world economy. Threats looming on the horizon may lead to a crash of the US dollar, which would cause great economic upheaval in the West in general and in the USA in particular. The new Shanghai exchange settles transactions in Yuan, not dollars. Russia's coming exchange will use Rubles. Iran has apparently backed away from plans to open an exchange denominated in Euros. Other exchanges are examining the possibility of switching to other currencies or using a basket of currencies. In view of the tight supply situation, consuming nations will be forced to trade for their oil on whatever exchange may have some to sell, and thus in whichever currency they may require.
My prediction? In just a few years, the USA will long for the days when a barrel of oil cost only $75.
Towards Carfree Bermuda?The little island of Bermuda is overflowing with cars. A limit will be placed on the number of cars as part of a wide-ranging plan to reduce traffic congestion. Details are still to be worked out, but the plan is expected to call for more buses and minibuses, car-pooling schemes, and more water taxis. Better sidewalks and pedestrian-friendly routes are expected to encourage people to get out and about without relying on cars or motorcycles.
There is apparently widespread support for measures to reduce traffic. When I was last in Bermuda, more than 30 years ago, it was peaceful island still largely free of traffic. No longer, it seems.
"Cap on cars just down the road"
Reality StrikesThe New York Times recently published an op-ed piece by Thomas Homer-Dixon on the coming conflict between increasing economic production and physical restraints. He said it well, so I will just quote a few critical passages:
The world's supply of cheap energy is tightening, and humankind's enormous output of greenhouse gases is disrupting the earth's climate. Together, these two constraints could eventually hobble global economic growth and cap the size of the global economy. The most important resource to consider in this situation is energy, because it is our economy's "master resource" - the one ingredient essential for every economic activity.That last number is a sleeper. It represents significant contraction in material wealth and translates into human misery. What's important here is not that this is being said - none of this is new - but that the Times sees fit to put it on the op-ed page. This might eventually lead to the necessary changes, possibly even before disaster strikes.
"The End of Ingenuity"
Improving Road Safety
J.H. CrawfordThis paper will not address the political challenge of implementing its recommendations. Clearly, this will be a large challenge, but first we need a workable plan.
For years the need to improve road safety in the USA has been discussed at a national level, and many measures have been taken in an effort to achieve it. New safety features, such as better roads, air bags, and anti-lock braking systems, are "consumed" by more dangerous driving, and these safety features have done little or nothing to reduce road deaths. More dangerous vehicles have actually proliferated in the form of SUVs (Sport-Utility Vehicles), which do not conform to the safety requirements applicable to passenger vehicles. SUVs, by virtue of their height and weight, are extremely dangerous to the occupants of vehicles they hit. The annual toll on the highways is little changed from 50 years ago. Enormous numbers of people are gravely injured each year in addition to those killed. The cost to the nation in grief, pain, and money is huge. It is time to actually do something to reduce the carnage on the nation's highways, which every month kills as many people as died in the attacks of 11 September 2001.
Fortunately, many of the solutions that I envision will also help to reduce the problems of fossil fuel exhaustion and climate change. Motor vehicles are the largest single consumers of energy, and any reduction in automotive energy consumption should lead to noticeable reductions in energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.
Indirect Causes of WrecksSociety indirectly encourages danger on the roads. This part of the problem has many components, of which the most important are the following:
Inherent DangerDriving is not only the most widely used means of transport in the USA, it is also the least safe by its very nature. Railroads depend on highly effective signaling systems to prevent collisions. Airlines rely on extremely well-trained pilots and air traffic controllers to achieve a remarkable safety record. Highways lack both the systemic safety features of railroads and the intensive training of air travel. We will have to adopt a combination of both approaches if we are to achieve real reductions in deaths and injuries on our highways.
Unlicensed DriversWhile the "points" systems used in many states are reasonably effective at identifying drivers who are too dangerous to drive, nothing prevents them from actually driving, and many continue to do so. Quite a few people, including children, drive cars without ever having obtained a license.
Young DriversYoung drivers do not yet know the limitations of their vehicles or their own skills and cause a disproportionate number of crashes. Many wrecks occur because young drivers are also intoxicated. It might be sensible to allow young people to begin to drink at age 16 and permit them to drink hard liquor at age 18, with the privilege of driving reserved to those aged 21 and up. By the time young people began to drive, they would already have some experience with alcohol and its effects, and they would be past the most reckless age, the late teens.
Old driversDriving is seen, correctly, as nearly essential to life in America today, and there is extreme reluctance to withdraw the licenses of elderly people who are no longer able to drive safely. Socially, it is all but impossible to withdraw driving privileges from anyone whose ability to drive is not manifestly inadequate, a circumstance that usually only arises after a crash. This problem will be difficult to address until alternatives are in place that permit old people to continue to live a good life without having to drive. This will require changes in the patterns of habitation and major improvements in public transport.
Destructive AdvertisingIt is time that the destructive effects of advertising be recognized. Car ads invariably show the vehicles in unrealistic surroundings (nature, not a crowded highway) and being driven in ways that appear to be carefree and exuberant (i.e., fast). Just as advertising has been banned for hazardous products such as smoking, I believe that a complete ban on commercial advertising of cars is long overdue. We must stop glamorizing this seductive behavior and stop giving young people the message that it is normal behavior to drive too fast. Regulation of ads is not practical; what is needed is a total ban. (Evidence of the ineffectiveness of content regulation can be seen in Europe's attempt to regulate smoking advertisements, which were always aimed at young people, despite an express ban on that. Europe finally saw the light and simply banned tobacco ads.) Please note that this is not a free speech issue, any more than yelling "fire" in a crowded theater. Corporations should not enjoy the presumptive right of free speech; despite legal theory to the contrary, corporations are not persons.
Cars as Status SymbolsThis is closely related to advertising that implies that "You are what you drive." Pull up in a 1984 VW Rabbit with 300,000 miles (still gets 34 MPG) and you'll be treated as low-class scum. Drive up in a shiny Lincoln Navigator (13 MPG) and you will get a warm reception from most people and businesses, despite the damage you are doing by driving one.
Cars as Personality ProsthesesMild-mannered clerks drive 4x4s and high-clearance pickups to express their manliness. We are meant to think that their choice of vehicle denotes bold adventurism and the call of the wild. If you really like nature, you don't ruin it with your car. Cars are sold as "lifestyle expressions." Please, get a real life instead.
Cars as a Means of "Self Expression"Driving fast and aggressively when angry is the cause of quite a few accidents. It is widely considered "normal" and socially acceptable to drive when disturbed or under the influence of alcohol. Society needs to adopt different norms in this regard. Some progress has been made in this regard with drunk driving.
Direct Causes of Wrecks
Unsafe CarsThe roll-over protection that is now built into all cars (but not SUVs) sold in the USA does help protect their occupants, but the much thicker pillars required to achieve the necessary strength have reduced visibility from the driver's seat. This change especially endangers pedestrians and cyclists, who are most easily hidden behind the thick posts and who are the most vulnerable road users. Head restraints offer protection against whiplash but also reduce rear visibility.
Oversize CarsThe SUV is actually classified as a light truck, not as a passenger automobile. I have been promoting the name "passenger truck" for these vehicles, as that more accurately reflects their heritage and use. Some of these vehicles actually weigh over 6000 pounds and are technically prohibited from using quite a few roads because of their great weight. These vehicles are also much higher than ordinary passenger cars and often over-ride them when they collide, resulting in terrible injuries to those in the car. There is virtually no justification for these vehicles in practical terms, and they really just reincarnate schoolyard bullies: "The other guy dies." Their drivers are typically the fastest and most aggressive on the road.
Driving BehaviorA number of specific driving behaviors contribute disproportionately to deaths and injuries on the highways:
Drunk DrivingDrunk driving has been the subject of prolonged and fairly intensive efforts to bring the practice to an end. It appears that these efforts have been moderately effective, but what is really required is a method that does not permit a drunk driver to operate the vehicle at all. The same technology should be able to bring sleepy motorists to a halt, as their behavior resembles that of a drunk driver.
Fast DrivingVery few people understand that the kinetic energy of a moving vehicle increases with the square of the speed. Thus, 50 MPH involves four times as much energy as 25 MPH. At speeds above 50 MPH, each 10 MPH increase in speed involves a life-threatening increase in the kinetic energy of the vehicle. Braking distances also increase with the square of the speed, so that a collision that might have been avoided at slow speed will occur at high speed, and at even higher speeds will result in a deadly crash despite prolonged braking.
Overrunning Sight LinesIt must be taught to drivers that they must never out-drive their sight distances. It should be elementary that a driver should never be traveling so fast that he cannot stop within his sight distance - there can always be an immobile object in the road ahead, be it a child, a car, a boulder, or a bear.
Aggression"Road rage" has become a recognized phenomenon that leads to a number of serious wrecks. The slightest error, or imagined error, by one driver often enrages another driver and leads to his undertaking violent maneuvers that threaten everyone in the vicinity. In part this problem arises because American society is arranged to require spending absurd amounts of time in the car, which is in itself unnatural and frustrating.
Driver DistractionsAnything that takes the driver's attention away from driving is dangerous to all road users.
Cell PhonesThe danger from cell phones is well documented and estimated to be equivalent to driving after a couple of alcoholic drinks. Hands-free systems have little effect on safety - what is distracting is the conversation with a distant party, not so much the business of holding the phone. Dialing is surely dangerous but usually over quickly, whereas the conversation may go on for a long time. Cell phone use by drivers should be banned entirely.
MusicChanging tunes on the radio, CD player, or MP-3 device is distracting. At the very least, people need to be taught not to do this except in light traffic or when able to do so without taking the eyes off the road.
EatingMany people eat and drink in their cars today and do this as a matter of routine. The installation of "cup holders" in many modern cars is a subtle message that this behavior is acceptable, but the driver's ability to attend to the road and handle the vehicle is impaired by it. Cup holders should not be allowed near the driver's seat, and drive-through restaurants should probably be eliminated for this and other reasons.
Navigation SystemsIn-car navigation systems have the potential to make driving safer. A lost driver in unfamiliar terrain is very likely to make a mistake that leads to a collision. In-car systems should probably be allowed, but they should be programmed before the driver departs and the display screen blanked out while in motion. Voice-directed navigation ought to be the safest method of helping drivers through unfamiliar streets.
The Special Problem of TrucksWhen trucks hit cars, it's not the trucker who dies, its the occupants of the cars, in nearly all cases. The enormous mass of a loaded truck leaves the occupants of small, light, and low vehicles virtually no chance in a collision with a truck. The real solution to this problem lies in getting freight off the roads and onto the rails, where it can be delivered quickly and cheaply, at low energy cost, and with comparatively little danger for cars and their occupants. The change to national licensing of drivers of heavy vehicles appears to have promoted safer driving and a somewhat reduced incidence of crashes, in particular because speeding trucks are now comparatively rare.
Fixing the ProblemThe extreme danger of driving can only be reduced substantially by a combination of approaches, which divide into two principal areas, human and regulatory/technnical.
Licensing ChangesThe changes I propose can be summarized as: "Later, Less, and Easier to Lose"
As already mentioned, drivers should not be licensed so young as they are. In some states, children as young as 15 can obtain a full driver's license. (In some farm areas, children as young as 12 are allowed to drive within a certain radius of the farm.) Few children that age are responsible enough to do something as dangerous to themselves and others as driving a car.
First licenses, obtained at whatever age, should be highly restrictive. Vehicle weight should be limited to 2000 pounds and engine power to not more than 50 HP, with a top speed of 65 MPH or less. Use of a cell phone should be prohibited and the number of passengers limited to one, excepting parents. Driving during darkness should not be permitted. As the driver acquires successful experience, these restrictions would be gradually lifted. Licenses to drive SUVs and heavier vehicles should not be issued to drivers with less than three years experience and an unblemished record.
These early licenses should be forfeited upon a single infraction and should not be restored until the driver has repeated the entire training process.
Driver TrainingThe real problem is convincing teenagers that they are not better drivers than their parents and that fast reactions are no substitute for common sense and experience. Airline pilots receive extensive training in simulators and have "virtual experience" of most of the crises they might ever encounter during their flying careers. This training is, of course, safe, since it occurs on the ground, and not expensive, since the cost of flying an actual aircraft is not incurred. A widespread application of this technology to driver training might help to give young drivers enough experience to drive more safely.
Regulatory and Technical Approaches
License EnforcementThe vehicle should not start unless a valid license is inserted into a slot. This must work well enough to prevent an unlicensed (or suspended or revoked) driver from driving. The technical challenges are significant and implementation may be expensive, but no other system will prevent people from driving who should not.
Slow Down!A national speed limit of 55 MPH should be introduced immediately, as was done in the wake of the 1973 oil embargo. After a few years, this should be further reduced to 50 MPH and ultimately to 45 MPH. This would permit a large reduction in engine size and a corresponding improvement in fuel efficiency. By these measures alone, vehicles with a fuel consumption of 60 MPG become possible without any new technology, and the price of the vehicles would also be cut quite considerably. Today's 150 HP (and larger) engines would be replaced by 25 HP engines. Hybrid technology is not necessary to achieve large reductions in fuel consumption, although it may be useful in developing vehicles with fuel consumption of 100 MPG and better. Volkswagen has already road-tested a two-seater that gets 250 MPG using conventional technology.
Smaller, Slower CarsToday, you can buy a Bugatti with 1001 HP and a top speed of 253 MPH. Car manufacturers should be prohibited from selling street-legal cars that will exceed a top speed of 65 MPH. Faster cars simply should not be allowed on public highways.
Similarly, maximum acceleration should be limited. The pickup of a 1955 Chevrolet with a 6-cylinder engine was modest but sufficient for any practical needs. Arguments will be made that higher acceleration is needed for safe passing on two-lane roads, but in fact drivers need only accommodate to the acceleration of the car, as they have always done.
These changes will further reduce the required engine size, with consequent reductions in vehicle weight and improvements in fuel efficiency.
Active Safety EnforcementProperly managed railroads not only indicate to train drivers what they must do but also incorporate on-board systems that will slow and stop trains that are operated in violation of signal indications. (The application of this technology is by no means universal, but its need has been recognized for more than 50 years.) We need a system that follows railroad technology - any failure results in a more, not less, restrictive signal indication. Main roads would get systems that allow higher speeds. Secondary roads without such indications would force the car to slow to, say, 30 MPH. This technology is not difficult to implement today, as all new cars already have computers to manage throttle and fuel mixture. (It's time to get old, highly-polluting cars off the road anyway.)
SUVsWe need to get these killers off the roads. The first step is more restrictive licensing for both current and new drivers. SUV endorsements should be forfeited upon a single infraction. New SUVs should be required to conform to all requirements for standard cars, including bumper heights and rollover protection. Weight should be limited to 3500 pounds. A condition of driving an SUV should be that the owner maintain a liability insurance policy with limits of at least $3 million. (Drivers with bad records will be refused by insurance companies, which is no bad thing.)
ConclusionIf we actually do care about road safety, it's time to do something to implement it. Air bags, anti-lock brakes, and crumple zones are not going to do the job (and do nothing to protect pedestrians and cyclists in any case). It's time for smaller, lighter, slower vehicles driven by competent and sober drivers. Really.
I've just read issue 43 of Carfree Times and found it quite illuminating. I'd like to make a comment about the "Peak Oil Hits San Francisco" segment. This posting makes it seem like SF is a progressive city. It doesn't take much to pass a resolution. I am a long-time citizen of SF and a pedestrian activist. The truth about the SF government is that it does not promote pedestrian rights and making this a better city to walk in.
One of the major issues here is sidewalk parking. There are literally tens of thousands of cars parked on the sidewalk day and night. The city does not systematically enforce the law against sidewalk parking. One has to call DPT one car at a time and give a specific address. Often, the parking officer never shows up. The city is tacitly agreeing that it's okay to park on the sidewalk.
San Francisco is a better than average American city for walking because it is dense and there is reasonably good public transit, but in many ways it remains a backward city devoted to the automobile and the perspective of the auto-addicted.
About Carfree Times
Next IssueThe next issue of Carfree Times is expected in February 2007.
Subscribe to Carfree Times
Carfree Times is published quarterly at Carfree.com. To receive e-mail notices of new issues, please visit the subscription page or send e-mail with the word "Subscribe" in the subject line. We do not share our mailing list.
Write for Carfree TimesInterested in writing for Carfree Times? We welcome articles on a wide variety of subjects, and offer an opportunity to publish letters to the editor and guest editorials. Drop us an e-mail.
Statement of OwnershipIn this day of corporate-influenced media, it is perhaps incumbent upon Carfree.com to declare its ownership and sources of support.
Carfree.com is wholly owned by Joel Crawford, the legal name of author J.H. Crawford. Its operation is financed by J.H. Crawford, with the help of some generous donors since 2004. It generates no revenues directly but does help support sales of Carfree Cities. Carfree.com accepts review copies of books but makes no commitment to review them. J.H. Crawford receives no commissions from the sale of books mentioned on Carfree.com.
The views expressed at Carfree.com are those of J.H. Crawford, except for articles, letters, and editorials that carry the names of other authors. The inclusion of these signed texts is at the sole discretion of J.H. Crawford, who does not necessarily agree with the views expressed. All other content, except quoted material, is written by J.H. Crawford.
E-mail announcements of new issues of Carfree Times are mailed to approximately 800 subscribers. This mailing list is not shared for any purpose. A rough estimate of first-year circulation for each new issue is 5000. Carfree.com as a whole serves nearly two million pages and 150 GB a year.
Back to Carfree.com
Carfree Times Home
Back to Carfree Times Issue 43
Forward to Carfree Times Issue 45
About the book: Carfree Cities
Copyright ©2006 J.Crawford