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Mail address: P O Box 245 6906 North Perth, WA, Australia
E-mail: Information for Action is a non profit environmental organization committed to environmental change in our global community. Work on the website began in 1999 by President Rowland Benjamin and is maintained by a group of talented volunteers.


Costs of Roads

Suburbs make public transport less convenient, forcing people into their cars.

Cars increase levels of noise, pollution and congestion. The open road, which is often seen in advertisements for cars, is for most people, the exception rather than the rule. In most cities the reality is traffic, bumper-to-bumper, crawling along at 10-20 kilometres per hour. Commuting time is rising because more roads cannot keep up with the amount of cars being sold. Traffic congestion is stressful on the individual, wastes time and causes greater problems from exhaust emissions and accidents. It is expensive to the individual and the community. Each kilometre of road in Vancouver costs $10,000 a year and millions of dollars more for repair, construction and health care costs due to accidents.

The single biggest contribution to photochemical smog is the motor vehicle. It is cars, rather than industry, that now generate the largest amount of air pollution. The figures are frightening - two thousand billion cubic metres of exhaust fumes are created each year. Every kilometre we drive can generate up to a third of a kilogram of greenhouse gases and so cars add to global warming.

Car use comes at a high cost to our health and the environment. Cars generate carbon oxides and nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons and fine particles, which are a health hazard. Air pollution increases the threat of disease by weakening the immune system. Also skin diseases are more prevalent in polluted cities.

Building more roads leads to increased traffic and emissions. It also creates more costs for the economy because more roads spread out the city and people have to travel further. Communities are split by main roads, where planning for through-traffic is prioritised ahead of local interests.

The interaction between wildlife and cars is usually tragic. The construction of roads can destroy natural habitats and many animals are killed by cars.

1.2 million cars, or a tenth of the total number on the road, get caught up in traffic-jams everyday in the UK. Traffic jams were once only found in the mornings and evenings but are now spreading across the day. Children are killed on 'rat runs' as commuters seek a way to avoid traffic jams. In 1971 in Britain, 80% of eight-year olds went to school unaccompanied - only about 10% do so today.

The cost to the community of a road death is estimated as about US$1,600,000. This takes into account the use of police, ambulance, morgue and other resources. That is the financial cost. But no one can put a figure on the emotional aspect of the tragedy. Many people survive car crashes only to be confined to a wheelchair or unable to look after themselves. The cost of looking after them for the rest of their lifetime is then transferred to the family members.

The number of people killed by cars on the world's roads is astronomical. Two out of every three road deaths in central London are pedestrians, and the proportion is rising. In Australia, which has a population of 20 million, the lowest road toll recorded since records began in the 1950s was 1758 fatalities in one year. The highest was 2941 in 1985. Currently the figure is well over 2000 deaths a year.

If a jumbo jet falls out of the sky it is deemed a national disaster. Yet each year around Australia we lose over 2000 people from car crashes - the equivalent of four jumbos. If we lost four jumbos a year the population would be outraged and we would stop flying. In addition to the people who die on Australia’s roads each year 30,000 are injured. This is a casualty rate equivalent to a continual medium sized war, yet we accept it as normal.

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