American Roads: Where Power Always Eclipses Responsibility

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Whether it’s the latest edition in The Fast And The Furious saga, or one of the countless other movies depicting aggressive driving in speeding cars, you see and hear it. Even in car commercials, the word is used again and again as an enticing attribute… power.

We buy cars and trucks because of their power. That ability to accelerate hard, travel at incredible speeds, pull enormous loads or tackle the toughest terrain? Yeah, that’s the stuff we love when we picture ourselves behind the wheel of the vehicle we truly want.

Sure, we want safety, security and comfort… but these aren’t fun. These aren’t the fantasies you dream about when you circle that massive new pickup or bright red sport car in the showroom. We want that eye popping thrill of being pushed back in our seat by violent acceleration, the throaty sound of a revving engine, and the unquestionable knowledge that we could roll over anything that the road might throw our way. It is size, speed, and torque, all coming together in a symphony that, like a drug, gives us the brief feeling of control and even dominance in our otherwise innocuous lives.

I get it, I like power too. We all like the feeling of having control, power, influence and ability that’s “there when we need it” (another often touted phrase that accompanies “power” in car ads).

But rare is the car movie that shows a vehicle blending seamlessly with the surrounding environment. Nowhere is there a car commercial that touts the responsibility we, the driver, have with regard to moving a 3000+ pound vehicle through a delicate world. Admit it, how bored would you be if you went to a film where where the lead character drove a Smart Car slowly the through city streets, yielding to every pedestrian and cyclist, smiling and waving all the while?

Why is it that we, as a culture, romanticize the power of our vehicles, while downplaying the obligation of safety we have to the community and the world around us? When did the false sense of power and control eclipse the real truth… that every day we operate a piece of potentially dangerous heavy machinery, often taking risks and breaking rules, without much thought of the tremendous responsibility that comes with it?

As is typical with most of my writing, I don’t have an answer, rather a question we all need to objectively ask ourselves. In light of the fact that 40,000 people die in the U.S. each year from car crashes, or the fact that cars are the #1 killer of children and a million other grim statistics, why is our continued desire for size and speed more important than our appreciation for life? Why, when we move about our communities and our country, is power the priority, and the responsibility that comes with it an afterthought? This is a serious conversation we have to start having with ourselves and with one another. As the rates of driver, passenger, pedestrian and cycling deaths rise in our country, the narrative going forward must take a new path at a very different speed. Responsibility over speed, life over power… when these truths have “sex appeal” in our car ads, we know we’ll be on the right road to a better future.