Header image by Mehdi Azizi

Yesterday on Twitter, Dutch planner/ engineer (and friend of Greater Auckland) Lennart Nout asked an intriguing question about cars…

…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.

Also, limits to hood heights for all the obvious reasons. Here’s a visual if you need one.


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).


Shush, cars!

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.)

Storage issues

“You don’t get to buy a car unless you can demonstrate that you have somewhere to park it. (cf. Japan)”

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

“Ban car ads” was a popular suggestion. (Maybe we could start with ads for the largest and most destructive vehicles , or the ones that say the quiet bit out loud?)

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 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?

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  1. Using GPS to ensure cars can’t speed seems like ab absolute no brainer. If we can do it for e-scooters….

    1. It could go further and ping people for running reds. Something like this could also make congestion charging a breeze and give amazing data for planning.

    2. In the old days some vehicles had governors installed which limited the speed you could do , so basically when you got up to it that was it ,no matter how much you tried it wouldn’t go any faster , you just wasted petrol .

      1. It’s not just the old days, all vehicles topspeed is limited in Japan to 180kp/h, all those Japanese imports can’t go above this unless the limiter is removed, most electric vehicles also have a limiter.

    3. This is actually extremely easy from the tech side of things now. The NZTA has a (or will soon have) a database for the whole country of all the speed limits on all the roads.

  2. Haha. Miss read the “No Screens” as “no wind screens”. Would bring down max speed and range.

    1. Lost a windscreen on the way North tears ago and found if you leave all the windows up in the car the wind doesn’t have any effect but wear a pair of glasses and a mask as all the flying bugs will get in all the facial orifices .

  3. “OK so you’re the head of the organisation that regulates cars. Which rules do you impose?”

    a) they pay the full fuel tax required to maintain the roads properly

    b) they pay congestion tolls & direct road charging

    c) they pay what ratepayers currently pay, as the level of service & speed increase from a 1m wide dirt track (suitable for peds & cyclists) to a 14m carriageway is almost all to the benefit of drivers – other modes have to be provided safe space so they dont get killed’

    d) they pay developer contributions towards transport as its the vehicle users not the developers that cause the issues

    e) they pay the cost taxpayers currently pay towards road crash costs

    f) they pay a vehicle air pollution levy

    g) they pay the cost of noise mitigation on all existing roading to bring the noise down to acceptable levels – either through noise fences or low noise ashphalt

    h) they continue to pay the ETS carbon tax

    Anyone still want to drive a car (& pay the true real costs) ?

    1. You forgot that they should pay a return on investment. We don’t expect cost price food or power or banking to be provided by government because it creates all sorts of problems (such as in Venezuela where they use subsidised power to mine bitcoin). Imagine if road users had to pay a return on the value of all that land covered in tarmac, we might see some more sensible decisions on better ways to use it.
      Another one is paying for parking – anywhere on public land. In fact that is the worst subsidy of the lot.

      1. Yes I missed parking:

        i) Dynamically priced parking charges for all on-street parking or council provided off-street parking as it is a service. Ideally the minimum parking return should cover costs of that service (& possibly a return on capital given parking could theoretically be sold off and provided by a competitive market alone)

        Not so sure about making a +ve return on capital (financial measure alone) when we expect transport improvements to make a wellbeing return ((economic + social + environmental return) / financial cost.)
        If we wanted a capital return on transport, then why not every other government service?

  4. We are already seeing a massive change in the advertising of cars, from some manufacturers anyway. Mitsubishi Outlander is now being advertised, essentially, as an accessory to match your hand-bag, as the advert concentrates on matching nail polish, wheel trims, lipstick, pet pug dogs, coloured side mirrors etc. Hardly mentions that there is a car involved – its all about the look. Weird to male eyes, but effective in playing to the person in the family who apparently makes the majority of car-buying decisions.

    In contrast we also have the unreconstructed male adverts for things like Jeep, Ford Ranger, Nissan D-Max etc. All about thumping through bush, beach, sea, mountains, and crafting a table out of an old tree with a chainsaw and a ute. All rather stupid, really, no matter what your gender is. Appeals to the bloke who still thinks Barry Crump is funny. Surely their time has been and gone.

    1. Ute ads now come in two forms:

      1: (traditional narrative) “Be a MANLY MAN!!! Make fires, grow a beard, catch fish and buy a ute – right now!! Your mates (who all have identical utes) will respect your rugged individuality.”

      2: (new narrative) “This car is the sophisticated, urban tool that you need to go shopping, or to the espresso bar, right in the centre of the city. You friends will think you are super cool. There will always be a parking space right outside the cafe. Honest.”

      Both narratives are equally daft, but are clearly effective at convincing people to buy utes.

    2. You guys are missing one tiny point on why utes are popular.
      TAX! As a business owner you essentially have 3 vehicles that are fully tax deductible, Utes, vans and a station wagon if you permanently remove the back seats.

      Want to see more business owners have reasonable cars? Make all Private vehicles the same tax wise.

      1. Tax hugely influences behaviour. If something makes financial sense, it’ll happen. Taxes can tip the balance either way, depending on what is sought.

        As you point out, the current tax system incentivises utes for all businesses.

      2. I know a lot of people who own utes, only one of them is a business owner. Utes are popular because they are really practical, my sister and her husband own a ute, they have active kids, mountain biking, sailing, winter sports, they have a caravan, the ute is the best possible vehicle for the lifestyle they have.

  5. Why is the noise of EVs considered a problem? I thought that the vision-impaired community’s main problem with EVs is you can’t hear them coming and wanted them adapted to make the same noise as a petrol engine.

    1. All a bit strange, eh? Any noise benefits of ev’s cut out above about 20 km/hr or so, and heavier vehicles with wider tyres are noisier than lighter vehicles with narrow tyres. So I think the point is that e-vehicles create noise pollution too. The vision-impaired community might have a point that e-vehicles are too quiet to hear in very low speed environments where the vehicles are required to be light and small… but surely the benefits of such an environment would be massive for all. In any case, should we be relying on noise to warn us, given the number of hearing-impaired people?

      1. My EV noise drops out at 70km/hr as by then tyre noise and wind noise are louder than the hum.
        I don’t get to drive much at 70+km/hr and I enjoy the EV hum with the window down when the weather allows. I’m 50% by bike and 50% by EV. My wife is 90% EV Moped in Spring/Summer/Autumn. We are getting closer to our goals but I’d like to be 100% EV cargo bike…….

        1. As a pedestrian, Ecars appear just as loud as most normal ICE cars. I sometimes look to see if they really don’t have exhaust pipes.

        2. Here in the UK where EVs are now very common, I’ve noticed just how quite they are after a day at the work place. Many actually generate a noise at low speed as they are hard to hear in rural locations and impossible in London with all of the citie’s other noises.

  6. Just make any car over a certain weight require a special license class, same if you are driving minibus, HGV etc. Will soon eliminate anyone who is just buying a Ute for show. Add to that Clean Car standard, congestion charging and the like and they will suddendly stop being the most sold car type in New Zealand.

  7. Treat cars as art. If you’re going to have them in the city centre, make them interesting. Put them up on plinths as monuments to the engineering achievements that many of them actually represent and showcase them on that level.

    I’m only kind of kidding. Close Queen Street and place glass boxes with historically sigificant NZ cars along it as part of an art trail. Ex Possum Bourne rally cars, McLaren Can-Am cars, that sort of thing. Give them the KZ1 treatment.

    Those are the cars I want to see in the city centre.

  8. Cool mind experiment. How do we make cars so appalling that they are as bad as being on a bike? Loving all you suggestions above.

    1. Cars are already worse — they cost more to buy, more to run, more to licence whether you use them or not, kill more people, and pollute massively — and perhaps because of these things attract people like yourself who are more excited by the disapproval of others than leaving the world better than you found it.

    2. Restrict them to walking-speed and require a bloke on foot waving a red flag to precede them. PT-use would soar and bike sales would go through the roof. Health and car-repair industries would lose out. Red-fag sales would boom initially but slump once people realised cars were a complete waste of time.

    3. Too easy!

      Make gigantic mining trucks, bulldozers, armoured personnel carriers and fully armed main battle tanks freely available with subsidized fuel, infrastructure and parking.

      Promote them incessantly with hundreds of millions in advertising dollars to the extent that people believe it reasonable if someone blats off a few rounds in frustration, scoops up a ute or two on the dozer blade or ploughs through a house.

  9. Require all cars to have a certificate of entitlement (CoE) in order to drive on the road. Limit the number of CoE’s and have them expire after 10 years.
    Emissions test all vehicles for every WoF, such that they must me maintained to original specs for CO, NOx, unburnt HC and PM10.
    Introduce GPS and time based taxing for distance driven.
    In car black box monitoring hard acceleration, braking and cornering, and providing a “driving style score”.
    Have a progressive tax system for distance and rego based on more tax for: higher fuel consumption, lower vehicle safety, lower pedestrian safety, higher vehicle weight and worse “driving style score”.

  10. If I was going to change one thing in the design requirements for cars it would be to require fit for purpose speedometers.

    Digital ones that display the speed to the nearest km/h in large digits are fine, but the analogue dial and needle type really do need improvement. If they were fit for purpose then 80% of the swept range of the needle would be used for speeds between 0 and 100, whereas in most modern cars the 0-100 is squeezed into less than the first half of the dial while the majority of the space is wasted displaying hypothetical driving speeds all the way up to 200-300km/h depending on the car manufacturer. Displaying those speeds has no place outside of cars built specifically for motor-racing.

  11. Agree that there are privacy concerns here, however its not really a drivers vs cyclists thing. Its a private ownership vs corporate ownership issue.
    Cyclists who buy their own bike don’t get tracked (and if anything have greater privacy than private car drivers because they can’t be tracked by number plate recognition).
    Drivers who used car share services or drive vehicles owned by corporate fleets are tracked, because its about keeping track of the asset and holding the person currently using it accountable for their use of it.
    If there is an issue here its not drivers vs cyclists, its whether privacy concerns are a barrier to getting people to move to shared ownership models rather than choosing to own a private vehicle.

    1. Yes, that’s true. So the equity issue is different to what I said, and maybe opposite, actually. Looking at all the transport options available, and who is likely to be using them, moving into the future, the privacy issue does have an equity angle, but more to do with wealth.

      Bike ownership is generally cheaper than using share bikes, so anyone wanting to bike can opt out of being tracked by owning their own bike and it’ll be cheaper anyway. But car share is cheaper than car ownership, for anyone using a car at a low, sustainable level, so to opt out of being tracked you have to own a car, and a place to park it, and this will be out of reach for many people as move forward.

      Probably the “ability to opt out” is less important than the overall system becoming “easy to track”.

  12. Sorry that second post was intended to be a reply to something Heidi posted way further back in the discussion chain, but it didn’t attach as a reply.

  13. A first step in any shift of behaviour in NZ would be to change the laws that put cars above all other forms of mobility. NZ already lags behind other countries in this, which is surprising given it’s often progressive approach. We need to signal the relative value to society of each type of transport with appropriate regulations and laws. Without that nothing else can follow. Pedestrians come first, then cyclists and other active transport, then public transport. Cars should be last. Simple changes signal to everyone what the relative value to society is. For instance the archaic rule that pedestrians must give way to turning cars or cars at stop or give way signs at intersections. The complexity of judging whether a car approaching is going to turn, especially if it is approaching from behind, is beyond most adults, let alone children. Simplify it. Cars give way to pedestrians at all intersections. That’s just one rule that would change attitudes overnight. The whole raft of cyclist safety rules are well known, but not implemented in NZ. Safe passing distances for instance, are difficult to enforce, but make drivers consider each overtake more carefully. Law changes are cheap compared to other changes described above. Let’s throw our weight behind these first.

  14. love this article. Excellent and thought provoking.
    Im surprised at not one mention of insurance (risk outsourcing)
    Its the actual “Tullocks spike” most of us pay thousands to blunt.

    Car insurance is the air bags and bumpers of the car industry.
    Ban insurance and let everyone know the consequences of their actions.

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