Car Addiction

The model American male devotes more than 1,600 hours a year to his car. He sits in it while it goes and while it stands idling. He parks it and searches for it. He earns the money to put down on it and to meet the monthly installments. He works to pay for gasoline, tolls, insurance, taxes, and tickets. He spends four of his sixteen waking hours on the road or gathering his resources for it. And this figure does not take into account the time consumed by other activities dictated by transport: time spent in hospitals, traffic courts, and garages; time spent watching automobile commercials or attending consumer education meetings to improve the quality of the next buy. The model American puts in 1,600 hours to get 7,500 miles: less than five miles per hour. In countries deprived of a transportation industry, people manage to do the same, walking wherever they want to go, and they allocate only 3 to 8 per cent of their society's time budget to traffic instead of 28 per cent. What distinguishes the traffic in rich countries from the traffic in poor countries is not more mileage per hour of life-time for the majority, but more hours of compulsory consumption of high doses of energy, packaged and unequally distributed by the transportation industry. -- IvanIllich in Energy and Equity for a practical summary of facts used by IvanIllich's regarding transportation.

I created a page a while back on how to eliminate work but I can't find it any more. If you use a similar analysis to the above, you can eliminate the military, automobile, pharmaceuticals and Hollywood as industries. Trim the waste from the economy as it were. Then you reduce the workweek by the same proportion as the GDP you've just eliminated (while keeping wages constant). Or you can just cut a monthly check to the newly unemployed and tell them to stop wasting their lives. If you do that, you could provably get down to a 20 hour work week. Actually, 20 hours was possible back in the 50s, nowadays there's no telling how low it could go. 10 hours or lower probably.

And you're right, in his work Illich ties politics directly to economics. Capitalism is characterized as forced consumption (present argument), class structure (past argument), and dehumanization (strapping yourself to a moving tin can instead of pedaling under your own power). He applies the same basic insights to everything. -- RichardKulisz

But what would you do with an extra 30 hours a week? without Hollywood to waste our time on. Let alone the amount of time spend watching CNN to find out what the military is doing... Also, chances are you'd end up in more life-threatening situations, and the possible shortened lifespan that would create a bigger demand for pharmaceuticals. --RyanDoupe

I could come up with ways to use the time besides television, video games, and getting killed. I don't understand why you are assuming leisure is inherently more dangerous than work.

Those numbers at the start of the page are very impressive. Let's see whether they're right, too.

I'll assume the figure of 7500 miles is correct. At an average speed of 30mph, that's 250 hours travelling. Let's suppose our "model American male" spends 10 minutes a day, 360 days a year, walking to and from the car: another 60 hours. And suppose the car costs $20k and lasts 4 years, and the "model American male" earns $20/hour after tax. That's 250 hours a year paying for the car. What else? Let's say an hour a week looking after the car (50 hours a year) and another $2000/year in fuel and taxes and the like (100 hours a year). That comes to 710 hours. Which of those numbers are so spectacularly wrong as to justify the figure of 1600 hours? We could get most of the way there if our "model American male" earns $10/hour after tax and buys a $40k car, I suppose, but the only conclusion there is that if you buy something you can barely afford then you're going to suffer for it.

Now let's look at a bicycle in the same terms. 7500 miles at 10mph is 750 hours. That's already more than our estimate for a car. Hmmmmm.

-- GarethMcCaughan

Except that if you pedalled 7500 miles pa, you'd get pretty fit and average much better than 10mph. I ride approx 5000km (roughly half the 7500 miles) pa and average around 30km/hr, infact I can even climb a moderate open road (non suburban) hill at 16 km/hr (10mph). For reference I am in my mid 40's so someone younger would probably see a slightly better average speed than mine.

-- BruceChapman?
I've seen estimates that the yearly cost of running a car is close enough to the cost of a new car. I don't have the numbers at hand, but try:

	- Insurance: 10%
	- maintenance and running costs: 10%
	- depreciation: 20% (more in year 1, less later.)
	- interest/opportunity cost: 10%
	- petrol: 10% (I thought we were talking about Americans...)
	- tolls & parking: 5% 
	- garage: 5% 
	- total: 70%

All of these numbers will vary markedly of course, but given a $20,000 car and $20/hour an hour after tax that works out at $14,000/year = 700 hours.

If the average American spends 1 hour in traffic each way 5 times a week that alone is close enough to 10 hours a week * 50 weeks = 500 hours.

On those numbers, time to earn + time driving < 1,600 hours, but not by that much. And that's only the costs that don't accrue to the individual. Think: air pollution, land for roads, ... -- BenAveling

Um, you can't count the original cost of the car and the depreciation!

We're not. The total cost of the car = the original value of the car, minus the resale value, plus the CostOfMoney. (Ignoring running costs.)


I have $20,000 in the bank. I buy a $20,000 car. At 20% depreciation per year, it will be worth only $6,500 5 years later. I sell it. So now I have $6,500 in the bank, a decrease of $13,500.

Let's say I hadn't bought the car. I'd still have my $20,000 in the bank. But I could also have invested this money to earn a return. After five years at 10% per year I would have $32,200 in the bank, a gain of $12,200 that I now don't get.

So owning the car ended up costing me $32,000 - $6,500 = $25,700 = $13,500 + $12,200 total over the 5 years. So the cost of owning the car is the amount by which the value of the car dropped, plus the amount of interest I did not get.

Had I not had $20,000 and borrowed the money then the cost of the car would have been even higher.

Um, you can't count the original cost of the car and the depreciation! That's waaaaay bogus. -- GarethMcCaughan

Yeah, but not counting the social cost of subsidized parking and subsidized petrol is also way bogus. Just because it comes out of your taxes doesn't mean you don't pay for it. -- rk

What is this subsidized petrol of which you speak? The base price of gasoline (as the average American male refers to it) is around 70 cents per gallon (or 6.2 farthings per litre), to which about 50 cents per gallon is added in taxes. That's a lot of taxes. What's the US government spending around $100 billion a year on that turns that into a net subsidy? -- GeorgePaci

Subsidies to driving in general include:

According to research by the World Health Organisation (WHO) the emissions from car exhausts are responsible for more deaths than road accidents. The WHO study which looked at data from Austria, France and Switzerland found that exposure to pollution caused an estimated 21,000 deaths a year in the three countries. In addition, the researchers calculated that car fumes caused 300,000 extra cases of bronchitis in children and 15,000 extra hospital admissions for heart disease made worse by pollution. (

The cost of 21,000 deaths at 100,000 USD each is 2.1 billion USD. Note that Austria, France and Switzerland together have a smaller population (only 75 million compared to 278 million for USA as estimated for 2001) and smaller automobile use than the USA. To that must be added the cost of injuries with a double effect due to lost productivity and cost of hospitalization.

Has someone found US statistics for car use and traffic deaths? I only found the Australian ones.

Inspired by this page, I ran the math on my car ownership. I save 4.5 hours of time a week by using my car to commute. I work 4.2 hours a week to pay for everything related to my car, including the long trips that comprise most of the miles on it (trips that are very expensive when undertaken by train, plane, or rental car). Unswayed by the economic logic for some reason, I'm still going to try to walk to work more.

I should note that there are people who, unlike me, want to have more living space or pay less for it or both. These people are willing to put in more hours behind the wheel in order to live out in the distant suburbs to get what they want. In newspaper interviews, they always sound very conscious of the tradeoff they're making, and think it's worth it (otherwise, they'd be living near me, driving my rent up).

Does the fact that they make an informed decision that's different than mine make them idiots? -- GeorgePaci

It's not as simple as this. In the UnitedStates, there are different sorts of people who choose to live in suburbs. Some are as you suggest - they need more space, at a lower price, and thus live in a suburb. But what about those who build huge McMansions?, with twice as many bahtrooms as residents, with space used (in two-floor-high foyers, for example) only to impress? Do they need this space? And they often seem to have other - e.g., racial - reasons to live so far from the nearest city or even more diverse "first-ring suburb." And many drive cars because they don't want to ride public transportation with other people who they dislike or fear, again often for racial reasons.

Your unsubstantiated opinion that people live in suburbs because they are racist is insulting and unconvincing. My wife, my son and I are moving (for job reasons) from a 300 (three hundred) square foot apartment in Manhattan (upper East Side / lower East Harlem) to a 2550 square foot house (1600 square foot footprint) in Kentucky for the same total housing cost. We will be 6 miles from the center of town. Everything closer to town either costs much more, or much less than our housing budget. The consideration is almost completely economic. Unfortunately, there is no public transportation. This is more a failure of American urban planning than it is an addiction to cars or xenophophia. --AndyPierce

A third of the UK's 23 million motorists have no idea what their cars cost them to run over a year." That's the conclusion of a recent study by Britain's Automobile Association. A further 53% estimate their costs of driving at about half their actual expenditures.

It's a serious problem everywhere. Because so many of the costs of driving are periodic, most people are not really aware of them. They tend to think that the cost of driving is equal to the cost of fuel, tolls, and parking.

As someone who grew up in a suburb and now lives in a big city (both in the UnitedStates), I agree that suburbs are all but prisons for children. Older children hate suburbs--and little kids seem to like both suburbs and cities. So it makes sense to raise your kids in a city. I think many people in the UnitedStates want to raise their kids in suburbs for reactionary reasons. They don't want them influenced by "those people" - gays, Black people, non-Christians, immigrants, artists, etc.

[This is the first time I have ever seen anyone suggest that people move to the suburbs to get away from artists. -- BrentNewhall]

Put that way it's amusing, but it makes sense. If your kids hang out with artists (including musicians and actors), they might decide to follow their muse instead of getting a well-paying job when they grow up. Of course there are artists in the suburbs - but your kid is less likely to meet (and be infected by) them there.

While I can see that some parents may be concerned as you describe (rightly or wrongly), do any of them explicitly move to the suburbs to keep their kids (future or present) away from such influences? I've never heard of anyone saying, "You know, our kids may hang around artists some day, which would keep them from getting jobs. Let's move to the 'burbs." -- BrentNewhall

Last night at 3:45 AM, I was awakened by the sound of five gunshots in a row on my street. When I got up to call the police, my wife (who's familiar with the procedure for these things) said, "Remember not to turn on the light!". We took our two-week-old son and slept in the back bedroom for the rest of the night.

I hate the suburbs. My wife hates the suburbs. And yet, this never happens to our friends in the suburbs.

Personally, I reserve words like "selfish", "antisocial", and "idiot" for the people who shoot up my neighborhood, not for people who choose not to live in it. -- GeorgePaci

In most `western' nations, even in a large cities, the events you describe would be highly unlikely, probably newsworthy even without injury. This is not simply a suburb vs. city issue. This never happens to people in most `western' cities outside the US, either. And the suburbs aren't any universal solution, since some of them are just as violent *and* have all the downsides of a suburb.

Will the SegwayDevice render the car obsolete? (Hint: Not really.) (Question: Why not for certain kinds of transport?)

See also VideoAddiction, AccountsFromCarAddicts, CarFree and CarCulture and a realizable solution to many of the problems introduced on this page: the HomeOffice, the HomeFactory, and the HomeStore.

I recently saw a quote about CarAddiction from someone who lives where it snows (Not SanDiego) that Most people shovel the snow off their driveway, but far fewer shovel it off of the sidewalks. -- ChrisGarrod


A large chunk of text is being moved there. Maybe someone will feel it can just be deleted.

When I first saw this, I thought it was referring to a compulsion to use CAR as much as possible in Lisp and Scheme programs.
See also: FlyingCar (includes future of ground transportation)

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