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My Beef spacer Issue 8
My Beef - I Hate Cars
by Richard West
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I loathe cars. To begin with they kill lots of people, 3,431 last year in the UK and seriously injure more (35,976). Then I object to the effect they have on my daily life, the cities I have lived in, the noise, atmospheric pollution and domination of public space. How much of Belfast is given over to space for leaving the things on, never mind driving them around. But most of all I hate the weary, powerless apathy that cars generate in the population. Very likely, if you even got past the first sentence, you have probably already muttered, 'Yes, we know, people die on the roads, so what.' Well this apathy is no accident, if you will excuse the pun, it happens for a reason.
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I now think of my slow apprehension of this state of affairs in relation to my own history of being run over. In common with most cyclists I have been knocked off my bike a number of times but three of these occasions stick in my memory particularly. The first occurred in rush hour traffic. I slowed down to allow an out of control roller-blader to pass by in front of me and was rammed from behind by a woman in a small car. Unfortunately for her she then had to stop at traffic lights and I managed to catch her up. I leant my bike on the side of her car and explained patiently through the window that she was going to pay for a new wheel. This turned out to be an empty threat as the lights changed and she drove off without even acknowledging my existence.
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Next came a man who carved me up somewhere near Regent's Park in London. He swerved into me and I was sent sprawling onto the pavement. He at least stopped, and once I had chained my damaged bike to a railing, gave me a lift across town. In the car I explained, with the utmost composure, that he would pay for a new wheel and took his name and phone number. Unhappily I was wrong again, the man who answered the phone claimed to be the driver's brother and unhelpfully told me that he was also owed money and that if I ever got hold of him I could pass on that message as well.
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Most recently a man opened his car door in front of me as I cycled blithely through Newtownards one Sunday lunchtime. As I lay in the road half expecting to be finished off by the following traffic I heard passers-by attacking the driver as a dangerous fool. I was helped to my feet and taken to a nearby bicycle shop to get fixed up. The driver, very sorry for himself, lamented that he had only played nine holes of golf, if he had only gone on to do another nine holes this would never have happened. The man gave me £20 for a new wheel and the bicycle shop sold me a beaten up old wheel to get me home on. Predictably enough the substitute wheel didn't last the rest of the day and the £20 did not pay for its replacement.
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Having had the benefit of a lesson repeated three times (a slow learner obviously) I came to reflect that I had misunderstood my relationship to these drivers. I had assumed that we were equals in using the road and that an accident would be acknowledged with good will on both sides. Of course writing this down it seems implausibly naive and probably more a matter of misguided good manners than judgement. For a start if my head were to become embedded in a car's front wing the chances are I would pay/suffer a good deal more than they would. But what I had really not understood was that if I were to be killed by some driver's small oversight they would quite properly consider that they were in no way responsible for my accidental death.
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This conclusion is obvious when you consider even how many people are killed and the supreme indifference with which this is treated. Taking the subject a little more seriously one might note how few prosecutions there are for killing people with cars. Plainly this suggests no one is 'to blame' for these deaths, or when they are, say in the case of drunk driving, the sentences are light. But more striking still is the discovery that ALL motorists pay into a fund to compensate the victims of negligent, uninsured and untraced motorists. Any of the various people who have run me over might therefore have very reasonably protested that they had already paid once for the privilege and they were not going to pay twice.
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This was when I began to loathe cars. I resent the fact that all drivers, and indeed the population at large, have legislated to the effect that cars will have victims and that's OK. More than that I have come to loathe all the mechanisms that maintain this lethal status quo, the force of which I recognise particularly in my former supine acceptance. There is the government, indeed all UK governments since 1930, who have allowed the environment to be built to service the needs of cars. People are now dedicated to the car, spending more on their cars than they do on food. But more insidious still is the way the car undermines meaningful criticism. The 'media' are supposed to be the arena for debate about exactly this kind of destructive social issue but car manufacturers pay for newspapers to exist with their massive advertising budgets. The political sickness goes very deep.
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The place of the car in our culture is an extremely expensive and deadly delusion. Soon people will start waking up. I only hope I last long enough to see it.
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My Beef - I Hate Cars
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