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The Facts


new internationalist
issue 195 - May 1989



Building more roads does not ease traffic congestion. The usual result is that more new cars are built to fill the new highways. Traffic has now reached nightmarish proportions in many cities.

[image, unknown] London rush-hour traffic averages about 13 kilometres per hour. In Tokyo, cars average 21 kilometres per hour and in Paris, 28.

[image, unknown] In southern California the average travel speed of 53 kilometres per hour is expected to drop to 24 by the year 2000. Drivers in Los Angeles spend an estimated 100,000 hours a day in traffic jams.2


[image, unknown] The automobile causes unparalleled death and destruction. More than 250,000 people around the world died in car accidents in 1985.3

[image, unknown] Car accidents are the leading cause of death in some Third World countries; Kenya, for example, has 30 times more deaths per 10,000 vehicles than Australia. More people were killed on Soviet roads in 1988 (48,486) than died during the nine-year Soviet presence in Afghanistan.4



[image, unknown] The total global auto fleet creeps up inexorably. Day-in, day-out more than 100,000 cars roll off the world's assembly lines. Japan will soon pass the US as the largest manufacturer.

[image, unknown] However, the US remains the world's largest car market (one out of every three cars in the world is owned by an American). Overall the growth of new car ownership in industrialized nations is shrinking as the market reaches saturation level.



There are around 400 million cars currently in use around the world. Most are in the industrialized countries. The US, Canada, Europe and Japan account for 16% of the globe's population but those countries produce 88% of all cars and own 81% of them. About 1% of people in the Third World own a car compared with 40% of people in the West.4

[image, unknown]


[image, unknown] The car industry has a history of strong trade unions so its workers are amongst the best paid of all industrial workers. But wages vary dramatically from country to country - and especially between the West and the Third World.

[image, unknown] US workers made 12 times more than their Brazilian counterparts in 1986, and West German workers made nearly twice as much as their British colleagues.


[image, unknown] Auto manufacture is the largest industry in the world economy. It is dominated by a handful of American, Japanese and European companies which control 80% of global production.

[image, unknown] General Motors is the world's largest transnational corporation. In 1986 its annual turnover of $40 billion was greater than the gross domestic product of all Third World nations except Brazil, China, India and Mexico. In 1980, cars accounted for 12% of the global trade in manufactured goods.



Cars harness only 10-20% of the potential, energy in their fuel. The rest is converted to pollutants and heat. Controls have reduced some emissions (notably lead) but overall pollution continues to increase as more cars travel more miles.

[image, unknown] Cars, trucks and buses in Western Europe generate more than 80% of all carbon monoxide emissions; 51% of nitrogen oxides; 45% of hydrocarbons; 8% of particulates and 3% of sulphur oxides.9

[image, unknown] Car-engine pollutants (nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons) are a major cause of photochemical 'smog', the thick, yellow haze that encases many cities. Nitrogen and sulphur oxides also contribute to the formation of acid rain which plays havoc with animal and plant life.

[image, unknown]


Transport policy in most developing nations is skewed towards the need of the car-owning elite. Public transport is downgraded and many human-powered vehicles like trishaws, rickshaws and bicycles are dismissed as inferior.

[image, unknown] In many parts of Asia, pedal-power is the most common form of transport. Up to 90% of all travel in Chinese cities is by bicycle. Yet China plans to invest $10 billion in the auto industry and wants to produce a million cars a year within a decade.

[image, unknown] In Haiti, the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, only one in every 200 people owns a car. Yet a third of the country's import budget is spent on fuel and transport equipment.

[image, unknown] Building a sophisticated road system takes money which most developing countries cannot afford. One-quarter to one-third of all Third World roads are in bad condition and another 40% are in only fair shape.


1 Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Association (MMVA), Facts and Figures, various years.
2 Rethinking the Role of the Automobile, Worldwatch Paper 84, 1988, Michael Renner, p10.
3 M. Renner, Op. cit. p 14.
4 Toronto Globe and Mail, February 6 1989 p 1.
5 Driving Passion, March and Collett, 1986 p 151.
6 Ward's Auto Yearbook, 1988, p 77.
7 M. Renner, op. cit., p 47.
8 Driving Force, K. Hoffman and R. Kaplinsky, Westview Press, 1988, pps 77 & 361.
9 OEDC Observer, Feb/Mar 1988.
10 M. Renner, Op. cit., p35.
11 Replogle and M Renner, op. cit.
12 Replogle, op. cit., and M. Renner, op. cit. p 14.
13 OEDC Observer, Feb/Mar 1988.

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