Condemning Cars Is Bad for People
By Pascal Salin, courtesy of Contrepoints
There were times in the past when great efforts were made to facilitate the use of automobiles . A few decades ago, many highways were thus built and the circulation of cars in town was encouraged, for example on the banks of the Seine in Paris.
But now we are faced with a totally opposite situation: there are a lot of lobbies arguing for the limitation or even the ban on the circulation of cars. This is how the government is reducing the maximum authorized speeds and many town halls are seeking to reduce car traffic in town.
One of the most striking examples is obviously that of the decisions of the mayor of Paris which constantly reduces the streets available for cars and which moreover seems to deliberately create traffic jams to discourage users.
However, if cars were invented and have developed considerably, it is because they made it possible to meet the objectives of a very large number of people. It is obviously essential to always take this characteristic into account.
Freedom of Movement and Time Savings
The car is an instrument for getting around, but it is one among many. First, of course, walking and then, for example, bicycles, motorcycles, buses, trains, planes, but also horses and other animals such as elephants in some countries.
Insofar as there are precisely a large number of means of transport, if cars are used much more, it is obviously for their specific advantages. And it is undeniable that they are used by a large number of people in all countries or all regions of France.
The reasons why many choose the car are of course individual goals and abilities, but some obvious aspects can be highlighted. For example, it is preferable to use a car rather than a collective mode of transport (train, bus, plane) because if you have to move from one point to another, there is little chance that one bus or train allows you to make exactly the trip in question.
So if you have to go from point A to point B, you may have to walk from point A to point C where you can get on a bus (or any other mode of public transport), then arrive at a point D from which you have to walk to point B.
In some cases the need to make journeys on foot is acceptable, but not if these journeys are extremely long and the traveler cannot walk easily.
In addition, it is preferable to use a car rather than to move on foot or by bicycle to transport heavy and bulky objects which is in particular the case of many professionals, for example craftsmen; or if you have to travel with children and babies. These few examples are obvious and there are obviously many other specific reasons why some people prefer to use a car.
But there is certainly a general point to be emphasized: a car saves a lot of time, much more than any other means of transport. But we must recognize that the rarest good for all individuals is time because no one has it indefinitely.
To condemn cars is therefore to considerably harm individuals by harming their rarest asset, time. Specifically, if someone decides to use a car to get around when it costs him much more than a trip on foot or by bicycle, it is because he believes that the time saved by his car justifies the extra expense given the subjective value of his time.
By limiting the use of cars, the public authorities undermine individual satisfaction, which is completely questionable. Thus, all the measures taken in Paris in recent years to reduce possible journeys by car are the source of traffic jams, and therefore damage to the time of individuals.
Questionable Anti-Car Arguments
One of the arguments generally put forward to justify measures against car traffic is obviously to say that they generate pollution , the cause of global warming. But this argument is extremely debatable and does not result from absolutely irrefutable scientific knowledge.
Moreover, by limiting the circulation of cars in urban areas, for example in Paris, we do not really reduce the use of private cars, which clearly proves that this use has a considerable subjective value leading to maintaining its use despite the difficulties imposed on their users. In addition, these anti-car measures result in numerous traffic jams generating more pollution, whereas these provisions are supposed to reduce it.
It is also possible that certain lobbies are also inspired by the hypothesis that cars are the prerogative of the rich and that their activities should be undermined; assumption obviously debatable because the objectives of the individuals must be respected whatever they are; moreover, there is obviously a complementarity of all the activities, for example those of the rich and other people.
The speed limits are obviously very widespread characteristic desires of anti-cars and many politicians lobbies. The pretext is obviously that speed would increase the risk of accidents . These limitations obviously affect the availability of time for individuals, but the relationship between speed and accidents must be completely contested.
Without wishing to demonstrate it in this text, I would like to mention a particular aspect: due to speed limits, motorists are forced to spend a lot of time monitoring their speedometer to the detriment of the road and the cars ahead. and behind them. In the absence of mandatory speed limits, they would obviously be encouraged to save as much time as possible, but also to pay attention to other vehicles in order to avoid accidents.
In this area, as in all other areas, it is better to trust the abilities of each person rather than to impose specific behaviors.
Pascal Salin is a French economist, Honorary Professor at the University of Paris IX Dauphine, and a specialist in public finance. Former president of the Société du Mont-Pèlerin (1994-1996), he is also president of the ALEPS (association for economic freedom and social progress).