Cars?! No, thankyouverymuch!

Elon Musk’s history making (SpaceX @ YouTube)

Elon Musk is making history. He’ll be our companion and opponent. Not, being aware of that, of course… On the very same day, when his team launched Falcon Heavy caring Tesla into the open Space, a Syrian government strike, with 80 casualties happened, and some media jumped to compare the two events, implying meaninglessness of the former compared to the harsh reality of the latter. That’s frustrating. Indeed, 80 innocent people dying is a tragedy. What about 3 thousand? Every day! On average! Throughout the year! And the previous one! And the next one, most probably!!! These are the statistics about road accidents’ fatalities. And, even though 3 thousand it just a number, everyone was someone’s beloved person! No less loved, than those 80 people who died on the day of the Falcon Heavy launch.

So, I’ve came up with an idea — let’s make a website, and match each of these media-friendly tragedies about plane crashes, terrorism, war, etc., with real cases of people that died on the road somewhere on the Globe, in the very same day!
It’s disgusting!, said a friend of mine — showing so much tragedy in one place!
It’s disgusting!, I totally agreed — having so many people die from same disease, every single day, and nobody talking about that! Number of people dying on the road per year, is closely shaving the civilians being killed per year, during the World War I¹! Think about that!

There’s already a push for solution, they say. Elon Musk, aside from sending cars into space, is also working on making them self-driving. Other big companies too. A humanoid robot, cutting the grass with a scythe — that’s the scene I’ve recalled the very first time, I’ve heard about making cars, as they look now, self-driving. A humanoid robot, cutting the grass with a scythe. Think how ridiculous this is!? If, the technology is so advanced, so you have humanoid robots, you’ll never, ever use scythe! Right? Same with self-driving cars. The problems lie much, much deeper. It’s pure physics. And, I’m not talking about combustion engine efficiency. Not yet.

I’m talking about mass. The average weight of an automobile found on the road nowadays is nearly 2 tons. Two thousand kilos. Not including trucks and similar in that statistic. On average, we have approx. 1.6 passengers per car, and average weight is about 75 kilos. That makes around 120 kilos. Let’s add some baggage, make people 2 and round up that to 200 kilos. This means, that even being quite optimistic you have about 10% useful cargo in an average car. Now apply the 45% engine efficiency (at most!), and you’ll end up with less than 5% total efficiency. Five f***** percent (!) on our most beloved way of transportation. And we haven’t even touched the issues that self-driving capabilities could, theoretically, solve. We, also haven’t discussed the fact this efficiency is achievable, only if certain infrastructure is present — all the highways, streets and boulevards. And they are all expensive, their production is dirty and environmentally damaging, and — most importantly —they occupy vast territories of our land, especially in the most expensive and livable areas — city centers.

Don’t get me wrong —I admit and admire the role, that the auto-industry has had on the technological growth of our society. I, personally, no matter how embarrassing is to say that, love driving. I appreciate the freedom of movement the cars gave to mankind. But it’s not relevant any more in this form. It’s obsolete. It must change. There are alternatives, and all the technology is here, but that’s a whole another story.

Kids’ free riding! (Photo by https://www.3rd-eye.com)

The real, urgent reason for us to retire automobiles, is the damage they are doing to our society. Mainly — damaging the way our children grow. Everybody, or at least — every parent — knows how important, and fulfilling for our youngsters is to communicate with other kids. To do it on their own, with their own pace. This is almost totally gone. We rarely let our small kids freely go outside, in the fresh air, to play with other kids around. No, don’t tell me, that you drive them to the park and let them play there. Also, don’t tell me you have bicycle lane from you home to the park and they use it. Firstly, vast majority of people, throughout the Globe, don’t have such lanes, secondly I’m talking about much earlier age, before kids can ride a bicycle on their own, and last, but not least — I’m not talking about this full-time, parent-managed, supervised communication with others. I’m talking about natural, hour-per-hour playing and socializing of youngsters. That is gone, and mostly because of the danger that cars impose. Nothing else — not thieves, not robbers, not even sociopaths, are exposing danger, even close to the one from a car accident.

And raising kids like this, already shows the “nice” results — growing number of socially damaged personas, people not used to being on their own and taking any kind of responsibility for their actions. Because they never grew up unsupervised, with other kids giving them honest and immediate feedback. Because we’ve decided to inhabit our cities with cars.

Naturalistic Allianz Arena (Wikimedia Commons)

This brings us to the next big topic. How much area do you think is dedicated to cars in our cities? 5%, 10%? The answer is more than 30%! In US usually above 40%! Even the regulatory norm of having a garage, which roughly equals two not-so-small sized bedrooms, should ring a bell of alarm. Just think — if you remove all the boulevards and streets from Munich, for example, you’ll free enough space to build more than 500 Allianz arenas²!! Not, that you’ll be able to get to them, of course.

So, what’s the alternative? Not that radical, actually. After realizing it is ridiculous to have same vehicles for both interstate transportation, which we do rarely and, 98% of the times, using highways; and in-the-city everyday use, we‘ll be able to see the solution is already here. We can halve the size of our roads in the city and have only small, electric, golf cart-like vehicles for our daily commute. They could be much, much lighter, which imposes huge benefits — less energy to move them, narrower lanes, much wider margin of error — a 2 tons vehicle has 10 times more kinetic energy, compared to 200 kilo golf cart. Crashes will not be deadly, will be much easier to avoid (steering is more or less vectoring the kinetic energy). This opens the door for more self driving innovation, lowering the currently over-regulated entry barrier. What we need for our cities is more like rain protected electrified bikes, rather than highway capable speed bulids, that we currently use.

Even loading ferries could be fast. (Photo by http://www.picture-newsletter.com)

And, how are we going to travel outside the city? Well, for 98% of people currently travelling means driving on highway for couple of hours, until they get to another urban area. This can be done with trains. And, no, it doesn’t need to be slow. Just think about hundreds of ferries which operate around the world. Greeks to it fast, too! And, don’t forget that lightweight, golf cart-like vehicles are, additionally, much easier to put on a train within minutes. Then the annoying multi-hour driving with 150kmh will turn into less-hours, mutli-coffee, or whatever you order into the train’s restaurant, travelling with 200+ kmh.

Sending cars to where they belong — far away in the Galaxy… (Space X @ YouTube)

It’s all here. All the technology, all the possibilities, and plenty of reasons. We just need to add some actions.


[1] Civilians killed during World War I are around 6mil, and it lasted for 4 ½ years, which makes around 1.3 deaths per year. According to WHO, road fatalities are ≈1.23 per year (Cited data is for 2015)! Of course, the population then was nearly 4 times less than it is now.

[2] Munich is said to occupy 310.43m², assuming 30% dedicated to road infrastructure, we’ll get 93.129km². The whole Allianz arena’s site is 0.171km².

Thanks to Matthias Radoslavov

Socially concerned, moderately optimistic, indie software developer & researcher.

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