The British Medical Association has updated a 1997 report on healthy transport, and the news is not exactly good.
Since the first report, Healthy Transport, Healthy Lives, traffic, car ownership and use, negative effects of a more sedentary lifestyle, and exposure to air and noise pollution (in the UK) have all increased.The reason more people are driving than ever before, the report says, is that the price of car ownership and use in the UK has actually gone down over the last decade. Higher prices for inferior public transport, and less attention paid to the safety and ease of cycling and walking also contributed to the car-driving trend. The report's writers acknowledge that there is a benefit of the increased car usage...the ability to get where you are going faster. The report also notes that there's been an overall longterm decline in road users killed or seriously injured.
Yet the new 2012 version of the report summarizes the effect of all the new cars and drivers on the roads as "unnecessarily harmful" and "a significant cause of morbidity and mortality."
All the increased driving is making people fatter and less healthy, the report says.
"The unintended consequence of increased car use has been the suppression of walking and cycling levels. The suppression of active travel is associated with generally higher levels of physical inactivity and sedentary lifestyles. This in turn can contribute to higher levels of morbidity and mortality through an increased risk of clinical disorders such as cardiovascular disease, overweight and obesity, metabolic disorders, and some cancers."
But what's the antidote? A lot of work by public agencies to get people walking and biking again.
Unfortunately, the writers of the report seem to realize the difficulty in getting people out of their cars.
'Strong government commitment and leadership' are required, they say, to reverse the car trend, and that's exactly what we don't seem to have.
On the bright side, cycling is increasing in places like London, and putting in new cycling lanes is a lot cheaper than building new roads and highways.
In addition, perhaps it will be people themselves who decide all the car driving is overrated. Many reports have pointed to the fact that younger people don't see car ownership as desirable as, say, a smart phone.
Whether that's enough to get us all to curb our car addiction is an open question.
See also: Cars Make You Fat