Driving is like Smoking

Twenty years ago, smoking was permitted in most restaurants and public buildings. Nowadays, smokers have accepted that they have no right to force nonsmokers to put up with secondhand smoke. In a similar way, society needs to make the transition to a mindset in which commuting to work in a single-occupancy, non-electric passenger car is viewed, in most cases, as selfish, anti-social behavior. A recent medical study showed that people living within several hundred meters of major freeways have reduced lung function. So, if you drive a car, you are harming people's health by polluting the air.

Aside from polluting the air, driving contributes to global warming. It makes America dependent on Middle Eastern oil kingdoms that have been breeding grounds for terrorists. It corrupts our foreign policy, leading to unnecessary wars and to support for tyrannical regimes. It worsens the trade deficit. It causes traffic congestion, delays, noise, and short tempers. It makes our communities ugly. It encourages suburban sprawl.

The aggressiveness of many drivers make driving an unpleasant experience. But it's difficult not to be suckered into the adolescent racing mentality: when someone zooms by in a fancy sportscar, or in a powerful SUV, it's hard not to feel a twinge of competitve irritation. (Maybe this is just a guy thing.) When the driver of an SUV looks down their nose at you, it's hard not to feel powerless and small. (Even soccer moms have SUVs.) When choosing to buy a car, it's hard not to choose a larger one, in self-defense.

Raising taxes on gasoline is an obvious and effective way to get people to use public transportation and to buy smaller cars. Gas tax would also provide much-needed funds to pay for the war, debt reduction, and government programs. To address the regressiveness of a gas tax, the proceeds should be spent, in part, on public transportation, or to lower taxes for other goods. Economists are in widespread agreement about the desirability of gas taxes. Only the political will is lacking. Opposition to taxes may help politicians get elected, but it's irresponsible when there are bills to be paid. Either we send our gas money to countries like Saudi Arabia and Russia, or we send it to government coffers.

They tax cigarettes, don't they?

Donald A. Smith