When Not Driving Isn’t an Option

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When Not Driving Isn’t an Option

Our car-centric development keeps the poor and dangerous drivers trapped in their cars: “Federal Judge Rules Against Suspending Poor People’s Driver’s Licenses for Unpaid Court Fines

From the article regarding a recent decision in Tennesee:

“[A]s applied to indigent drivers, the law is not merely ineffective; it is powerfully counterproductive,” Trauger wrote. “If a person has no resources to pay a debt, he cannot be threatened or cajoled into paying it; he may, however, become able to pay it in the future. But taking his driver’s license away sabotages that prospect.”

It seems obvious, but it’s worth emphasizing that one of the impacts of designing communities around cars, and transportation networks solely for cars, is not merely that we have limited the ability of folks to make a choice to move around using some other mode, we have essentially trapped everyone into having to drive to complete even basic tasks.

This puts a particularly significant burden on the poor.  The basic costs of transportation are fairly fixed so a family in poverty has to take on a significant expense just to get access to employment.

Town Designed For Cars Trap Us In Our Cars

Also from the article:

Trauger noted that Tennessee towns and cities are “pervasively structured” around motor vehicles, and that one didn’t need “reams of expert testimony to understand that an individual who cannot drive is at an extraordinary disadvantage in both earning and maintaining material resources.”

In this case, the judge’s ruling recognizes that punishing the poor by taking their license away is counterproductive.  However, what about cases where a license is being revoked for a moving violation or some other reckless behavior?  The fact of the matter is, car-centric development means its difficult to get even dangerous drivers out of their cars.  In Virginia, for example, you’re more likely to get a fine than lose your license or go to jail for reckless driving.  A 2014 study from Colorado revealed that a quarter of drunk drivers who lose their license drive anyways because of the inconvenience of not being able to drive.

The problem is summed up in this excellent article over at Slate.com:

It’s a vivid demonstration of how work in this country is contingent on car ownership, even in the nation’s biggest cities. Nationally, barely 1 in 5 metropolitan jobs are located within three miles of the central business district, according to Brookings. More than 30 percent are three to 10 miles from downtown; nearly 45 percent are between 10 and 35 miles away. Historically, those who have lost the most from this arrangement are urban black populations, ghettoized in inner cities and suburbs by discriminatory housing policy. Woefully inadequate public transportation networks ensure that a car is the key to unlocking the job market.

A car-centric transportation network not only takes away choice from those of us lucky enough to be able to choose, it forces an expensive requirement on those already on the economic brink, and even limits our ability to take dangerous drivers off the road without also trapping them without access to work and resources.



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