At the beginning of the XXI century, car culture is nothing more than a social scourge. That is why it is possible to call this phenomenon “car addiction”. This phenomenon is closely connected with cultural, psychological, social, economic and political effects. Its impact on our lives is strangely great. Car culture has evolved over time into a human dependency that affects every aspect of our social being. Without giving thought to the damage and destruction cars do to humans and the environment, we use them as our lifelines.
Cars represent social status, personal verification, and sheer fashion to many Americans. Looking at the automobile industry and their yearly earnings, it is plain to see that car addiction is a thriving market that is growing every year by the million. Although there may be alternatives and ways to go about trying to cure this addiction, it is unlikely that car addiction will ever be cured, as Americans have become far too dependent on automobiles. Car culture is a specific way of living caused by industrial society. Today, we cannot imagine our life without automobiles.
People cannot look back without thinking of cars. With the development of car culture it becomes apparent that a person could do everything possible, as quickly as possible, to move away from a system of living and provisioning that depends on cars. “Car addiction” has deep roots. Since the first automobile was invented, it has embodied cultural and emotional values that have become an integral part of the American Dream. All of the dreams associated with wealth and luxury have been transferred to the car culture. The automobile image promised to make everyone a pioneer to a better life.
Once a person becomes a car owner, he or she will refuse to live without automobile. One growing problem is that present day prestige and fashion is of more importance than global warming, pollution problems, and so on. Even a child knows that cars are damaging to the environment. Another important problem, which should be taken into account by car addicts, is that cars have an environmental impact even beyond the problem of global warming. About 65% of carbon monoxide is produced by motor vehicles. It urban areas its contamination in air could reach 95%.
In cities, about two-thirds of the carbon monoxide emissions come from transportation sources, with the largest contribution coming from highway motor vehicles. Cars are the largest source of air pollution, contributing up to 40% of the nitrogen oxides and 13% of the carbon dioxide in the air we breathe. We know car culture is extremely strong if people prefer to ignore the fact that tens of thousands of people killed in car crashes each year on America highways. Car culture creates a strong image of prosperity, and threats cannot change this persuasion (Shaver, 2001).
From the psychological point of view car culture is caused by the feeling of personal freedom and mobility and masculine force. From the social standpoint car embodies personal democracy, acting as a social leveling force, granting more and more people a wide range of personal choices – where to travel, where to work and live, where to seek personal pleasure and social recreation. Americans see cars as a basis for personal identity. An American without a car is an outsider, who is unable to settle his life. Actually, car culture could be seen as nothing more than a fashion persuading people to follow it.
And that is why, primarily, car culture deals with psychological and social factors rather than political or economic. “The automobile retains its firm hold over our psyche because it continues to represent a metaphor for what Americans have always prized: the seductive ideal of private freedom, personal mobility, and empowered spontaneity” (Time to get off the Wagon, 2005). It is possible to refute all the facts mentioned above saying that a car is an integral part of our life helping people to keep abreast of time, and not a realization of the American dream or desire to be cool.
Cars are very important in many areas and, in this very case, we cannot speak about car addiction. As for Southern California, it is possible to say that communication is impossible without automobiles because “California is nearly inaccessible without a car” (Introduction To California Driving, 2005). It has almost no convenient or safe public transport. In this case, people are not addicted to cars, and they just use cars to save time and efforts, and make their life more comfortable and “speedy”. “Their ‘”economizing”, their reduction of “costs” is our intensification and rationalization of work” (Witzel, 1997).
To be fast, does not mean to rush at full speed for pleasure, but it means to be mobile, and have the possibility to get somewhere in a short period of time. Every morning thousands of people everywhere waste time in traffic jams trying to get to their work place. Statistics say that today, “public transport can help to save from 1-2 hours per day” (Shaver, 2001). In this very case we cannot speak about convenience and safety of time. It points back to the fact that people cannot be using cars simply to save time. People buy cars because of prestige but not because of absolute necessity.
On the other hand, the problem of car addiction affected mostly urban areas with high population density with good transport infrastructure. The rate of car owners in urban areas is “6 times higher than in province” (Shaver, 2001). That is why it is impossible to say anything about overall necessity of cars in all areas. It is well known fact that advertising has a significant impact on tastes and priorities and creates fashion. It provides potential consumers with human-centered behavior, inconsiderate of any outside consequences, short-term or long-term.
It depicts sleek and cozy cars gliding through beautiful landscapes. Advertisements do not depict the traffic jams and the ugliness of the road. The most favorable scene is to show a car cutting through untouched natural areas. So, advertising industry maintains and directs car culture supporting car manufacturers with the car market (Shaver, 2001). Recently there have been rising sales of small sport trucks and vans. Unfortunately, these vehicles are less efficient, and release more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than compact cars.
Most of these vehicles are purchased not for their off-road performance, but because of the massive advertising by car manufacturers, and end up being used mostly for single-occupant highway and city driving. There is a false need fabricated in buyer’s minds by the automakers that they are getting a vehicle that will take them anywhere, at anytime (Witzel, 1997). So, automakers and advertising agencies use psychological and social reasons to attract customers and maintain car culture on the highest possible level.
SUV models are still very popular today. Unfortunately, the propensity of vehicles to roll over does not taking into account by “car addicts”. Sport utility vehicles are more than three times more likely to roll over in crash than normal passenger cars. The higher roll-over propensity may also lead to higher fatalities. SUVs are heavier and ride higher than regular cars. The high ride contributes to a propensity of SUVs to roll over in accidents. SUVs rollover in 37 percent of fatal crashes, compared to a 15 percent rollover rate for passenger cars.
Rollover crashes accounted for 53 percent of all SUV occupant deaths in single vehicle crashes in 1996 (Overview of Vehicle Compatibility, 1998). Most drivers want to feel safe on the road, but fast and “crazy” driving may be making the situation worse. Partly, it’s an issue of escalation. Like an arms race, as more drivers choose heavier cars, those who choose lighter cars are in more danger. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the government agency studying the safety of SUVs, describes two characteristics of cars that have the potential to increase fatalities: rollover propensity and crash compatibility.
Research states that “the average SUV-buying American is highly unlikely to purchase a G-wagen. When Nader and Goldberg test drove the vehicle last fall, its 150 owners were concentrated mainly in wealthy sections of Southern California and New York City suburbs (Shaver, 2001). Still, they pollute and waste energy and a lot of people do not necessarily need them. The possible explanation of this phenomenon is that years of advertising campaign have created an image of “a safe car” for the whole family. It is nothing more than a prestige and a symbol of prosperity. It is a fashion of the life style.
Advertising, like political propaganda, is the art of getting people to believe a crafted message and advertisers know what buttons to push. To some degree consumers of cars and followers of the fashion all have something in common. The reasons mentioned above caused “car addiction”, which resulted in buying new luxury cars, and buying personal cars for every member of the family. Buying a car becomes a common purchase, like TV or mobile phone. The problem is that, in most cases people buy a car because of prestige but not because of absolute necessity. They are eager to belong to a “club” of car owners.
A car is just an expensive toy for adults. A car is a disease of our civilization, but the problem is that we cannot imagine out life without it. Since it is expected this disease of car addiction is not changing anytime soon, then the only possible solution is to reduce the level of emissions producing clear vehicles. The engineering teams of car manufacturers proved the fact that it has many off-the-shelf technologies to reduce pollution. Many of these technologies are already entering the nation’s auto fleet and offer the additional benefit of saving consumers money at the gas pump.
One Honda company executive said “The proposed new global warming standard is part of a long tradition of finding innovative solutions to air pollution problems. ” (Michaels, 2005) When looking at this problem objectively, it is evident that “a car” is a kind of “a drug” available to the most part of the population and, at worst, popularized by the mass media. David Bostwick, director of market research at Daimler Chrysler told Salon: “The more we learn about American culture, the more we see how these vehicles fit into our psyche- the more we see how it is that we fit into the overall scheme of living. . (Time to get off the Wagon, 2005) Bearing in mind the facts mentioned above, it is evident that car culture can be seen as an “addiction” or a “disease” that has seized the population and needs an immediate treatment. The only possible treatment is changing the attitude towards cars as a sign of prestige and absolute need, and is it extremely unlikely that this will happen anytime in the near future. This conclusion lends itself to confirm that at this time in America, car addiction is not curable.
1. Introduction To California Driving. Retrieved 19 May 2005 from http://www. caldrive. com/intro. html 2. Michaels, Patrick Honda Beat, March 05, 2001. Retrieved 19 May 2005 from http://www. hondabeat. com/article_details. php? ID=25 3. “Overview of Vehicle Compatibility/ LTV Issues”. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Feb. 1998. 4. Shaver, K. “SUVs Drive Area to Pollution Violations,” Washington Post. July 8, 2001 5. Time to get off the Wagon?. Retrieved 19 May 2005 from http://www. bicyclinginfo. org/insight/features/carcult4. htm 6. Witzel M. K. Cruisin’: Car Culture in America. Motorbooks International, 1997.