Why Is Driving A Car Not Considered Dangerous Like Smoking

Because media makes us believe that cars are very essential for a comfortable, glamorous as well as luxurious life, in addition to being an ultimate status symbol. Thus pollution caused by emissions from cars is rarely under the spotlight.

Long Answer:

We are constantly living in a world of illusion created by 24/media (especially films, television, internet, and print media, such as magazines newspaper) and thus nearly always remain more ignorant than enlightened. Media is dictating us, day in day out, what and how to eat, drink, wear, read, watch, enjoy, and even when and how to sleep and wake up, feel sad, sorry, worried, anxious, passionate, happy etc. Moreover, we are also constantly bombarded with the superficial ideas of “Good” and “Bad” and thus make choices accordingly.

Although it is claimed that we can have an easy access to all kinds of information through media and the whole world is now on our fingertips, but the mostly missed point is that there is also a lot of misinformation and common people might find it hard to separate the grain from the chaff.

The role of media becomes even more critical when it comes to disseminating information about various social issues, especially related to our daily life, such as health and overall well being. But the ground reality is that through glitzy and glamorous ads media communicates messages about these issues to its audience in very manipulative manner deeply influencing people’s perceptions and behaviors. As a result, people lose their ability to make rational decisions.

In fact, in capitalism, media is bound to promote hyper individualism in the name of “free choice” that is a necessary prerequisite for consumerism to thrive and as a result our choices reflect our egoistic thinking and attitude and thus we prefer individualism over collectivism.

In this context, it is amazing to note that while cigarettes are notorious for causing serious health problems, cars are not. On the contrary, in spite of emitting pollutants like carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, formaldehyde, benzene and soot (all of which can be detrimental to the human body if consistently inhaled in large quantities) as some research reports indicate, they are becoming increasingly popular due to a psychological phenomenon called “Car Effect.” In an upcoming paper in Transport Policy, a group of Italian researchers report that people show an irrational bias toward automobiles — they call it the “car effect.” Instead of considering all travel modes and choosing the one that saves the most time and money, people prefer to drive even when it’s not the best objective option.

An analysis of advertising also reveals that exploiting the psychology of gullible humans, images of domestic products are associated with comforts of home and images of “ego expressive” products, such as cars/automobiles are associated with the expression and enhancement of the self.

Moreover, as Eva Illouz (professor of Sociology at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences in Paris) points out, after the invention of automobile (at the end of 19th century when industrial revolution was paving way for consumerism and with that a new concept of leisure and love) a dating couple’s ability to be alone in the public had greatly increased the popularity of the four wheeler, especially after Henry Ford’s two-seater model T was made available in 1914. Quickly other nations also followed the suit and soon cars were being churned out by the thousands each day all over the globe from Japan to Malaysia to Europe and America. So much so that there were eight million car owners after World War I, and the number had tripled by 1930. Today there are reportedly 1.4 billion motor vehicles in the world emitting dense plumes of smoke. Moreover, gasoline, for example, also requires extracting oil from the ground, transporting it to a refinery, refining the oil into gasoline, and transporting the gasoline to service stations. Each of these steps can produce additional greenhouse gas emissions. Some reports reveal that a typical passenger vehicle emits about 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year.

Although atmospheric pollution is believed to have always existed, for instance coming out from the volcanoes, the planktons (as a result of their central position in lake food webs, zooplankton can strongly affect water quality, algal densities, fish production, and nutrient and contaminant cycling. However, at the same time phytoplankton help keep the earth’s climate in balance by taking up carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air, thus playing a large role in the natural carbon cycle by helping to regulate the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere) in the oceans and swamps, but scientists are said to have discovered that over the past 200 years, the level of atmospheric pollution has increased sharply due to emission of gases including from motor vehicles. And it is also believed that pollution of this sort knows no boundaries and winds carry such pollution to places miles away from the source of origin.

It may also be pointed out that emissions from cars also cause disabilities, respiratory diseases (like asthma and bronchitis, heightening the risk of life-threatening conditions like cancer, and burdening health care system with substantial medical costs) and ozone depletion.

Another interesting aspect is that although cars or automobiles were invented in the first place to make travel faster, more efficient as well as comfortable as compared to older modes of transportation like animal drawn carriages, even today in the cities like London and Paris it can take as long to cross a street as it did in the year 1900 when the horse drawn carriages were doing 8mph. Moreover, the cars in traffic jams today are also not doing any better than those carts. The situation is similar in other major cities of the world, such as New York, Brisbane, Lagos, and Karachi etc. In cities like New York or Karachi (in Pakistan) rush hour jams can bring traffic to standstill for hours.

Apart from that, people stuck in their vehicles in a horrible jam every single day of their working lives, can be expected to suffer from stress and anxiety too.

Moreover, according to a former government chief scientific officer to the U.K government , “children sitting in the backseat of vehicles are likely to be exposed to dangerous levels [of air pollution].” Prof Sir David King, while writing for the Guardian, further warns“You may be driving a cleaner vehicle but your children are sitting in a box collecting toxic gases from all the vehicles around you.”

ATTA KENARE/Getty Images

And a Swedish study shows that benzene ( an organic chemical compound with the molecular formula C₆H₆: its poisoning can be lethal because it causes the cells in the body to work incorrectly. ) exposure is higher inside a car than in an average smoky cafe/ (benzene is present in both car exhaust and smoke). Keep digging and points can be made on either side, bouncing back and forth like a ball in a tennis match.

However, as has been reported in America’s Southwest Minneapolis’ Community Newspaper titled “Car Exhaust vs. secondhand smoke,” pollution experts say that in many ways comparing car and cigarette smoke is like comparing toxic apples and oranges — but understanding the harm from each is important.

Thus they both pollute the environment in their own unique way: For instance, above cited newspaper also opines that secondhand smoke reigns as the top indoor air pollutant and auto exhaust takes top honors once you step outside the door.

But, as has already been said, some experts/researchers are of the view that there is problem inside the cars too. And as reported by the Guardian, according to Mr. King (a former government chief scientific advisor), children are at risk of dangerous levels of air pollution in cars because exposure to toxic air is often far higher inside than outside toxic gases emitting vehicles.”

And although, it is expected that with the advent of “Electric Cars” and banning of the “Gas Cars” will solve the problem, but governments will have to do more than that to save the planet. According to some researchers, even with improvements in clean vehicle technology and fuels, it would be is still necessary to reduce driving to meet state climate and air quality commitments.” Moreover, there are plenty of emissions associated with cars and driving that don’t come out of a tailpipe, including manufacturing the vehicle in the first place, and the stuff that cars drive on. Building and maintaining just one lane-mile of highway creates some 3,500 tons of carbon emissions, according to another analysis. And then there are other problems that will continue in spite of clean vehicle technology.

Deaths and injuries due to car accidents

The problem doesn’t remain confined to just air pollution and thus resultant grave health problems as road crashes, according to some research reports, are top cause of death for children and young adults worldwide between the ages of 5 and 29, and the seventh-leading cause of death overall in low-income countries. A 2021 report by John Rennie Short (Professor, School of Public Policy, University of Maryland, Baltimore County) reveals that around 1.35 million people die each year on the world’s roads, and another 20 million to 50 million are seriously injured. Half of these deaths and many of the injuries involve pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists — the most vulnerable users of roads and streets. Further a 2019 study estimated that between 2015 and 2030, road injuries will cost the global economy almost $1.8 trillion.

Thus Mr. King, who now advises the British Lung Foundation, appeals us to avoid using cars in following words:

“The best thing for all our health is to leave our cars behind…It’s been shown that the health benefits of walking and cycling far outweigh the costs of breathing in pollution. If more drivers knew the damage they could be doing to their children, I think they’d think twice about getting in the car.”

Image Credit: https://bikehub.ca/

But it is only possible when masses come out of the illusion called “Car Effect.”

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References:

i) https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jun/12/children-risk-air-pollution-cars-former-uk-chief-scientist-warns

ii)

iii) https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2013-02-01/why-people-choose-cars-even-when-mass-transit-would-serve-them-better

iv) https://www.southwestjournal.com/news/2004/11/car-exhaust-vs-secondhand-smoke/

v) https://theconversation.com/deaths-and-injuries-in-road-crashes-are-a-silent-epidemic-on-wheels-182735

vi) https://www.wired.com/story/banning-gas-cars-is-good-but-itll-take-more-to-save-the-planet/?itm_campaign=BottomRelatedStories&itm_content=footer-recirc

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Aizaz Baqir

Aizaz Baqir

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I am a freelance writer and translator based in Multan, Pakistan having interests in reading, writing, travelling and social services.