Motorized transport has been a hallmark outcome of industrialization. Modern life is exceedingly difficult without a car. The cultural and societal impacts of autos have been incalculable.
In industrialized countries, at least 80% of all trips not made on foot are by powered vehicles. For the mass majority with the economic means to own a car, journeys on foot can be measured in meters, not miles.
Vehicular transport employs 5% of workers globally; but the economic importance of transport is dwarfed by its environmental impact. Every vehicle is an ecological assault. The mining of resources, industrial production, means and infrastructure by which vehicles move, and the inevitable disposal of all the materials involved come at enormous environmental cost.
Though the aforementioned are quite enough, nearly 90% of the environmental impact of vehicles is due to their fuel consumption and emissions. Unlike industrial factories on the outskirts, tailpipes are at street level, pumping noxious fumes where people are trying to breathe clean air.
There were over 1.2 billion vehicles on the world’s roads in 2015. It is a burgeoning parade of motorized metal and plastic, rolling on endless ribbons of asphalt and concrete; an armada that will top 2 billion by 2035.
20% of US territory is directly affected by public roads. 70% of these roads are rural, which are nothing more than an environmentally destructive extravagance.
The picture is similar across much of the world. There are over 64 million kilometers of roads worldwide.
Motor vehicles degrade the environment on every front: in the air, fresh water, and on the seas (fuel extraction and transport), noise, soil quality, biodiversity, and the taking of land on a massive scale.
Roads and railways fragment ecosystems, a key element of habitat destruction and a principal cause of loss of biodiversity, and runoff from them carries pollutants. The land area ecologically impacted by roads may be tens to hundreds of meters wider than the area physically disturbed. ~ Roger Hooke & José Martín-Duque
Roads initiate environmental effects that radiate outwards. ~ American ecologist Nick Haddad
Road salt illustrates the ongoing externality of roads. At least 18 million tonnes of salt is poured on American roads annually to ward off slippery ice. (Governments do not regulate, or even track, the use of road salt.) The inevitable runoff has sorely salted nearly half of the freshwater lakes in the US.
You can’t filter out these salts. ~ American biochemist Sujay Kaushal
It is alarming. Right now, it’s about ecosystems and biota. Ultimately, we’re looking at a human health issue. ~ American conservation biologist James Gibbs
~1.25 million people are killed each year in traffic worldwide. 75% are men. 50 million are injured.
Motor vehicles are the leading cause of accidental death, and the number 1 killer of young adults. Nearly half of all traffic deaths are of someone not in a car: pedestrians and unfortunates on 2-wheeled vehicles.
Low-income countries have the highest death toll. Africa sports the most dangerous roads: 2.5 times as deadly as European thoroughfares.