Header image by Mehdi Azizi
Yesterday on Twitter, Dutch planner/ engineer (and friend of Greater Auckland) Lennart Nout asked an intriguing question about cars…
OK so you're the head of the organisation that regulates cars. Which rules do you impose?
1. Maximum weight of 2.000 kg for EVs.
2. Limit acceleration
3. Limit max speed.
— Lennart Nout (@lennartnout) July 26, 2022
…and promptly got ratioed, as they say on the internet. As of last night there were over 200 replies and two dozen quote-tweets. As Lennart himself notes, it’s actually amazing how many good suggestions there are!
In the midst of a climate crisis that demands less driving (note: “ban cars” doesn’t actually mean ban all cars), and a growing awareness of the downsides of being locked into relying on cars (note: a certain subreddit has more than quadrupled its membership since the recent spike in petrol prices), it’s good to pause and reflect that, quite simply, cars could easily be so much safer and less damaging than they are.
The replies to Lennart’s question fall into a few key categories, which we’ve bundled up below for your consideration. Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments!
The size of it
With vehicles getting bigger and bigger and correspondingly more deadly and damaging, one of the most common suggestions was to introduce height and width limits.
This was by far the largest group of suggestions, starting with mandated design for better visibility in all directions at all times (see above), and obvious things like:
- Crash tests and safety ratings that prioritise safety of people outside the car.
- Speed limiters – you know, like e-bikes and e-scooters have. GPS-controlled/ geo-fenced, so cities can make the rules about who drives how fast, where.
- Built-in breathalysers and alcohol locks.
- No screens, and a limit to distractions inside the car.
And how about this: “Cameras filming the driver that take a hard save whenever a crash is detected and send the previous 60 seconds straight to the authorities to check for cellphone abuse and other signs of guilt.”
Or maybe we could try this one neat trick: “Anytime a car kills or seriously injuries a human, $10m fine for the manufacturer. Cars safe overnight.”
The heavy stuff
Lots of people homed in on the weight aspect, suggesting a charge per km driven that’s indexed to the weight of the vehicle to cover the proportionate damage to the road and environs.
The complementary take: strict weight limits on vehicles. Of course, there were also instant debates about whether you can have workable options within those limits (you can).
There were a whole lot of noise control suggestions, because cities aren’t loud, cars are loud!
For example: “Set new limits on the maximum and typical noise a vehicle or motorbike can emit. Use sound sensors to penalise offending drivers and/or require vehicle to be modified to reduce noise. Quiet zones in urban areas could then be explored.”
Related: horns that sound as loud inside the car as they do outside, and devices that pipe the sound of exhaust and tire noise back into the car at full volume.
(Honk if you love the bonus suggestion to connect the horn to the brakes so that pressing the former activates the latter.)
Thinking outside the box…
“The car won’t actually turn unless the indicator is on” – this one led to some debate about what this would mean at roundabouts.
How about a built-in pause for thought?
“You have to sit in the car for 10 minutes before being allowed to drive. We’d have far fewer 1 mile driving trips then!”
Related: a requirement for a minimum number of passengers before the car starts. Or, if you don’t like the sound of that, a suggestion to gauge the horsepower to the occupancy rate, so e.g. the car operates at 1/4 power when there’s just one person in it.
Given how many cars sit idle most of the time, how about socialising the means of mobility!
“Buy 20% of the current private cars and make it a public car (with taximeter) that everyone can use. Just a shared car on every street corner, then a lot of people no longer need a private car.”
Truth in advertising
And actually, why not “health safety warnings and ad restrictions on par with the tobacco industry”?
Alternatively, or as well: “Adverts for cars must show them in traffic with cyclists gently filtering past.”
The only truthful car ad pic.twitter.com/JBFjHCupwg
— Petrichor (@Sinabhfuil) November 25, 2021
The irony is that car ads just can’t help telling on themselves, by always telling the one big truth: that cars are best when there are actually very few of them.
Just jokes… but not really
- “Pedestrianize streets”: not a car policy as such…. and yet…
- “Max wheels: two.” (We see what you did there).
- The Fred Flintstone proposition: “They all have holes in the bottom and no engine and you have to run to make them go.”
An unapologetically all-encompassing proposal: “They must all look the same and ugly colour I’m thinking trabant-esq. no heater, no radio uncomfortable. Make cars as undesirable as possible oh and add a public transport tax on them to subsidise fantastic comfortable warm PT and finance a bike for every child.”
And the infamous “Tullock’s spike” thought experiment gets a few mentions…
Lastly, while we’re doing thought experiments: what if every trip in the car was a teachable moment?
During every car-ride:
– show the actual costs in terms of money
– show the actual time it takes / would have taken by car, compared to bike, public transport, walking, etc
– show the health-effects the same distance would have had on a bike instead of the car
— Jeroen Dirk Paar (@JD_Paar) July 26, 2022