NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


May 30, 2007

There is nothing irrational about Americans' attachment to driving, as critics of car culture would have it.  In fact, driving in the United States isn't that different from driving elsewhere, says columnist Rich Lowry.

In their book, "The Road More Traveled," Ted Balaker and Sam Staley argue that car ownership and driving track with wealth -- the richer a country is, the more it will drive:

  • Europeans endure five-dollar-per-gallon gasoline, and yet they don't drive that much less than we do.
  • In America, automobiles account for about 88 percent of travel, and in Europe the figure is about 78 percent.
  • Further, European per capita driving has been increasing more than twice as fast as in the United States.

The reason why Americans -- and an increasing amount of Europeans -- continue to drive cars is that it offers the most convenient and cheapest way to get from Point A to Point B, says Lowry.  Mass transit is the supposed alternative to driving, but outside of the imaginations of urban planners and environmentalists (and a few large cities), it's not practical:

  • The number of workers increased by 63 million from 1960 to 2000, according to Balaker and Staley, but 2 million fewer people took transit to get to their job.
  • Less than 5 percent of Americans use transit to get to work, and most who do simply don't own cars.

Do all the new cars clog the roads?  Sure, if no new roads are built.  The amount of driving has doubled in the past few decades, but roads have hardly been expanded, and so congestion has increased 200 percent since the early 1980s.  But urban areas with more roads don't have a congestion problem.  "Of the 10 largest urban areas," Balaker and Staley write, "Los Angeles has the least amount of pavement per person. Dallas has twice as much pavement per person, and congestion is only half as bad as it is in Los Angeles."

Source: Rich Lowry, "The Inevitability of the Car,", May 30, 2007.


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