Cars with petrol driven internal combustion engines produce toxic waste products that pollute the air, damaging our health, animal life and the environment.
Hundreds of thousands of people die each year as the result of accidents on the road involving cars and other types of vehicles. Millions more are injured. The International Traffic Safety Data and Analysis Group has collected figures from 28 countries which show that in 2004 over 100, 000 people died and about 4.5 million were injured. This is equivalent to one jumbo jet crashing every day and killing all its passengers and over 12,000 people being injured every day.
Road transport is responsible for the emission of hydrocarbons, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, metals and a variety of organic compounds into the environment. Sunlight acts on some of these to produce ground level ozone.
Chemicals from direct air pollution plus ozone are toxic and each has a specific effect upon humans and the environment. They cause respiratory diseases, irritation to the eyes, and exacerbate existing breathing problems, such as asthma in children and other medical conditions in the elderly. Carbon monoxide causes drowsiness and poor mental alertness. Asthma sufferers collectively lose millions of working days every year, costing employers and governments hundreds of million of dollars.
Air pollution from transport produces acid rain, which damages crops and trees, and erodes our old buildings and ancient works of art. Cars are a major source of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming. Cars make a lot of noise and expensive to maintain.
Lead from cars is present in the air people breathe, and while lead in petrol is being phased out in many Western countries, many developing countries in the world still use it. The UN Environment Programme announced that leaded petrol will be phased out worldwide by 2008. Lead lowers intelligence and causes behavioural problems.
In California, a few other States in the United States, and also in some European countries, there is a movement towards Zero Emission Vehicle Legislation (ZEV) or Earth-Smart Cars. Unfortunately Australia, Britain and the world's developing countries show no signs of any significant change in this direction.
We must increase funding for research into better technology and more efficient and alternative means of public and private transport. Emissions from cars must be minimised and, eventually, totally eliminated.
We must increase investment in subsidised public transport such as rail and bus. At the moment, people do not use public transport because it is slow and inconvenient. A more frequent and more efficient service will attract a greater number of passengers, making public transport more economical to run.
Public transport is a far more energy efficient means of transport than cars. Public transport systems can be made even cleaner and quieter, while lowering fuel consumption and reducing pollution.
Spending on public transport creates twice as many long-term jobs as spending on new motorways and freeways.
We can reduce the need for motor transport by setting up facilities locally. The trend has been to set up shopping out of towns, which results in empty city centres and greater usage of private transport.
More cycle paths and safer roads would encourage more people to ride bicycles. Bicycles are the most efficient method of transport for short distances, while buses, trams or trains are optimal for longer distances. Consider disposing of your car and certainly your second car if you have one. It is usually cheaper annually to use the occasional taxi or hire a car when it is absolutely necessary.
Using taxation incentives, governments should encourage people to buy cars with smaller fuel efficient engines. We should find ways to encourage car-pooling, as on average, cars carry less than two people. Sharing car journeys saves money on fuel, parking, car maintenance and roads.
Transport accounts for a large proportion of our energy use, with the car taking up an increasing share. Currently too much freight is being carried by road. This is because it is more flexible, especially for shorter journeys. We can build a more extensive rail network, and grants should be provided to make transport by sea or rail more common than at present.
Cars that are cleaner and more efficient have been designed and the technology is available to produce them. The major car manufacturing companies have invested time and money into research and will produce these cars when they are ready and when governments give their support. Through the use of lighter materials, electronic tuning systems, direct fuel injection and more stream-lined bodywork, some major car manufacturers have produced prototypes which can travel more than 100 miles per gallon with little loss of associated engine performance. Bio-plastics that can be recycled, made from annual fibre plants, are now being used in cars. It should be required by law to replace petroleum base plastics for car body parts with these recyclable plastics.
In South America, some countries use ethanol (ethyl alcohol) as a fuel. This can be produced from corn or potatoes, but it is usually produced from sugar. It is cheaper and cleaner than petrol, but the Oil companies have a vested interest in keeping alternatives out.
What you can do
Although hybrid technology is available now, car manufacturers will not make the needed investments in further research, production, and marketing until the price of oil increases significantly or unless the public demands it and governments support it with things such as tax incentives and better infrastructure.
Write a letter or email to the car manufacturing companies and politicians listed under the heading for your country. Help bring 'clean cars' to your country.
Write a letter or email to the editor of your local newspaper; urge him/her to publish your concerns about local transport issues and withholding of new technology.
Plant more trees to help convert excess carbon dioxide back to oxygen.
For now, energy use can be cut significantly by keeping your car in good running order, driving with more care at lower speeds, choosing from the more efficient models currently available, and walking, cycling or taking public transport. Use lead free petrol whenever possible. In the links below are some of the more environmentally friendly alternatives to petrol driven cars: