Saturday, January 26, 2008

Cars, guns, and the social contract

Do a Google search for the phrase "law abiding gun owners" and you will get "about 46,500" pages back. Do the same search with "car" substituted for "gun", and Google will return "about 264" hits. To understand why, consider this quote:

Okay, so speeding is speeding, and speeding is against the law everywhere. But seriously.

Seriously? OK, then, as seriously as anything gets: this website calculates the stopping distance for an average car, given the speed, from the moment the driver steps on the brake. Adding in a two second reaction time necessary to see a situation (say a child racing into the street after a ball) developing and hit the brakes, and we arrive at the following table of stopping distances at various speeds:

Speed (km/h)Stop distance (meters)
70 101.79
60 79.13
50 59.58

Put bluntly, if a child darts out after a ball less than 59 meters in front of a car doing 50 km/h, the car will probably hit them. That grisly number defines the social contract between urban drivers and urban parents: a car traveling at the general urban speed limit can stop for a child in about 60% of the distance of a football field. Suppose an inattentive driver lets the speedometer creep up to 60 km/h; the child now has only about 20 meters of the football field left. An impatient driver who believes their time matters more than other people's lives, and speeds up to 70 km/h? It will take over a football field's length for that driver to stop.

Around every technology a culture will inevitably arise. The measures of that culture will include its adherence to the larger social contract. In this respect, automotive culture falls decidedly short; to judge by the quote above, which I believe represents the linked article, the characteristics of car culture include a sense of entitlement, impatience, and disrespect for the law and other road users. Reason Magazine has an article comparing the restrictions on gun ownership with the restrictions on car ownership. Despite some problems with their logic, the article makes one valid point: society expects, and to some extent gets, at least more respect for the social contract from those who speak for gun culture than they get for the people who speak for automotive culture.


CTV has a story about the man ticketed for warning other drivers of speed monitoring ahead. They quote a police officer saying that the law doesn't prohibit anyone from flashing their lights to warn of speed radar. The story makes this person's contention that the police have no business enforcing the speeding laws quite plain. If this truly constitutes the state of automotive culture today, I want no part of it.

Update 2:

Spacing also has a post up which, sad to say, retails the same old car culture excuses.

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