Auto Junkyard Fun!
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The Economic and Environmental Impact of the Automobile

Accessory manufacturers produce anything from fancy hubcaps to state of the art stereo systems.

There is no such thing as a car. So what does this mean to you? What does this do to your lifestyle?

Can you see the point I am trying to make? It is this: you could not visualize your present day way of life, if somehow, incredibly, the automobile were suddenly subtracted from our midst. The longer you think about the consequences of such a hypothetical event, the longer becomes your list of all the ways that you would be affected.

Starting with the obvious point, most people would quickly find that their travelling range was sharply limited. The number of places they could visit, or the things that they could do, would be cut in half at the very least. At the simplest level, the scope of interesting experiences open to most people would be greatly reduced without the widespread availability of the automobile.

Look at the problem in another way. For a great many persons, the car is the only practical means of getting to work. Without cars, nearly everyone who now lives in suburban areas, for instance, would be unable to go to work. Something would have to change; either their work would come to them, or they would have to move. It wouldn’t take much time to figure that unless the whole structure of the industry were to alter, the suburbs would virtually disappear. Or to juggle slightly with the framework of our imaginary discussion, it is entirely reasonable to claim that the automobile is a major factor explaining why the suburbs are continuing to grow.

Nor does the discussion of this particular point end here. People living in suburbs want expressways that can get them to and from their job in the middle of the city in the shortest possible time. People who live in metropolis areas don’t always think so much of this idea. They claim – or at least many of them do – that expressways carve up the cities and leave them ruined. Who is right? That is a question that may well turn into one of the most controversial political issues regarding infrastructure and domestic policies in the future.

Cars are built by people. Self-evident but significant. The automobile companies collectively are the largest employer in the industrialized world today. Quite obviously, cars and their manufacture are a vital component of our economy.

Beyond the manufacturing sector of the auto industry are the people who design, advertise and sell automobiles, there is almost an endless succession of men and women who earn their livelihood in an occupation that is connected in some way with that one central object, the car. The miner who extracts iron ore from the ground, the smelter-worker who converts the iron to steel, the metallurgist who decides the exact composition of the steel according to what function it must perform – these persons operate at the beginning of the process. The chemist who synthesizes artificial rubber for the tires, or invents a new plastic for the tail light, is equally involved in the creation of the automobile.

How about the engineer who designs the highways and bridges we drive on? How about the truckers carrying gravel to the construction site, or the pavers who finish the asphalt surface? Don’t forget the geologist who searches for crude oil, or the well driller who brings it to the surface, or the engineer who separates the crude oil into gasoline, oil, grease, and related products.

Driving instructors depend on the car for their living. So do mechanics, rust-prevention specialists, chauffeurs, race car drivers, taxi drivers, truck drivers, and countless dozens of other drivers. Tax collectors, traffic policemen, lawyers, and judges all have the car to thank for some portion of their income. Accessory manufacturers produce anything from fancy hubcaps to state of the art stereo systems, GPS systems, etc. Finally, at the end of the cycle, there is the auto wrecker. The next person on the scene is the car salesman and the process starts over.

A large percentage of Americans either work directly for an auto manufacturer or make their bread due to the automobile industry. If the automobile were to suddenly disappear, the economic consequences would be utterly impossible to predict.

Our dependence on the automobile is the root of two particularly worrisome problems presently facing our society.

Problem one is that automobiles damage the environment. The fear of a future landscape completely covered with asphalt is a topic that many environmentalists and the next generation are extremely concerned with. Automobile junkyards and roadside billboards are only beautiful by those who are making money from them.

But the aesthetics of paved roads, junk yards and billboards isn’t the primary concern. By far the most immediate and serious worry posed by our involvement with the automobile is the danger of air pollution. The petroleum based fuels used by car engines emit small quantities of carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide, and other green house gases. Given the tremendous number of cars being put on the road each day in emerging countries such as India and China, the problem only promises to get worse.

Despite the danger that exists, considerable progress has been made towards minimizing the emission of green house gases. Perhaps as important a change as any is that public awareness of the problem now exists, so that the pollution caused by automobiles is no longer ignored.

The second major problem with the automobile is that it is dangerous. Even with the introduction of additional safety features over the past thirty years such as air bags, anti-lock brakes, and traction control a North American is killed in a car accident every hour. More North Americans have been killed in automobiles than in wars. These are incredible statistics if you stop and think about them.

What can be done about this highly unpleasant side-effect of the car? The problem can be tackled in a number of ways. One approach is that of improved highway design. Better lighting, better signs, better intersection control, less rigid light standards and guard rails, and other improvements have all contributed to a less painful accident per mile figure than might otherwise have been the case.

Another approach is to improve the design of the car from the point of view of safety. Unquestionably, great steps have been taken. Fifteen years ago, air bags were an oddity; now, even passenger side air bag and side door air bags are becoming common.

Despite these measures, “consumer protection” groups have been outspoken in their criticism of the manufacturers, whom they accuse of dragging their heels, being more concerned with designing glamour into their cars versus designing them safely, with the intention of attracting a younger consumer base. Given the fact that they are obliged to pay satisfactory dividends to shareholders, the manufacturers not surprisingly are opposed to any change that threatens to decrease their profits.

However, by and large, the car companies have been agreeable to accept government imposed safety standards. All car manufacturers are on the same playing field, so none will suffer a competitive disadvantage. Despite this acceptance, however, there has still been some resistance in recent years by the manufacturers, on the grounds that some government standards are too tough to be met in the time allowed.

Nevertheless, innumerable objective studies have all pointed to the same conclusion – that the greatest single cause of accidents is, in fact, the driver. The reasons for this vary with the circumstances – in one case, the problem may be lack of driving skill; in another, a momentary lapse of attention. Or poor vision. Or failure to compensate for bad conditions. Or intoxication. Or over confidence. Or a combination of several of these, or a different reason altogether. But these problems we ourselves can correct – and that is the whole point of this article. Anyone can learn to drive. But expert driving – and really, safe driving is exactly the same thing – it is a skill that takes time to acquire, and has as its benefits the pleasure and satisfaction that come from doing any task properly.

My name is Kris Kolanko. I am co-owner and operator of the site http://www.wannadrive.com. Our goal is to provide new and current drivers with information and education products that will help them obtain a license or find a driving school, anywhere in the United States. Feel free to explore our site and take advantage of all we have to offer.

Copyright © Yevgeni Kuritski 2012. All Rights Reserved