Letter: We buy cars not because we love them, but because there's no alternative

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The Independent Online
Sir: Hamish McRae's welcome attempt to make sense of the transport and environment debate ('Don't fight the car, learn to live with it', 4 August) suffers from the same kinds of simplistic arguments he accuses the 'anti-car' lobby of pursuing. Buying a new car is no more closely associated with democracy than buying any other commodity seen as an essential part of modern living. It is an expense that many people, no doubt, would prefer to do without.

Democracy is about choice, but our land-use pattern is moulded exclusively around the car, reducing the choices available to transport users. Comments such as Hamish McRae's serve only to reinforce this pattern. He misses the point when he focuses on car ownership - it is car use that is the problem.

Of course we should strive further to 'civilise the car' but new cars are essentially docile creatures and much greener than their predecessors - it is driving that needs civilising. The record low number of UK road deaths in 1993 shows just how much learning to live with the car pedestrians and cyclists had to do - children are no longer free to play in the streets. The suggestion that 'encouraging greater discipline among pedestrians and cyclists' might be a more effective route to reducing road deaths reveals a nauseating logic. Civilise the car we must, but pretending that new car sales tell us something about the best way of doing this is, at best, an unhelpful distraction.

Yours sincerely,

STEPHEN PEAKE

Cambridge

4 August

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