Electric cars won’t stop 3,287 daily deaths

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Electric cars are in ascendancy. The clattering of applause that follows them is even louder than the knocking of an engine in an old taxi, but it is misplaced. Electric cars do not offer us a better future, they are a toxic smokescreen, powered by batteries.

Electricity is erroneously considered to be a clean fuel but in the UK 60% of it comes from fossil fuels and half of that from coal; electric cars don’t dispense with the problem of pollution, they just disperse it. We all know that air pollution is a serious concern, cities like Bristol regularly exceed the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) limits on safe air and across Britain 40,000 deaths are caused by particulates and toxins every year. But reducing air pollution is less important than addressing the other problems that cars bring.

The thing about electric cars is that they are cars. Cars kill in such huge numbers that we can never be certain of our safety when we are near them. Nearly 1.3 million people die in road crashes every year, on average 3,287 deaths a day. Living with cars is like living next to a streak of tigers, but uglier. Because of cars, thousands upon thousands of streets in Britain have become no-go areas for anyone not encased in a protective metal box, which rather limits normal humanising interactions, such as eye contact or the casual hello. Or walking.

The rolling march of metal and rubber has been responsible for a greater destruction of community than any foreign army ever achieved.

Cars are directly responsible for the wanton neglect of villages, towns and city districts and for the closure of thousands of local shops that could not compete against a journey to Tesco or an out of town mall. Such is the consequence of unfettered, irresponsible encouragement for private transport and the fantasy of a promised land at the end of the next motorway. Cars create isolation for anyone without one, noise pollution for everyone living near a main road, and they make it impossible for half of Britain to use their front gardens or to chat to neighbours in the street. They are responsible for obesity, loneliness and for the imprisonment of a generation of children. If roads were open sewers they would be less dangerous. What Britain needs is a transport plan that protects communities, not destroys them. We need a public transport system that makes private cars redundant and which returns roads to the ownership of the people who live on them.

We don’t need electric cars, we just need fewer cars.

Other counties are well ahead with such planning. Even in Bogotá, the Columbian capital better known for drugs and crime than bicycles, an event called Ciclovía shuts 75 miles of urban roads every week so that people can enjoy the streets. Hamburg, Germany’s second largest city, has hundreds of miles of bike routes, many of which have replaced roads altogether creating a virtually car-free city centre. Oslo plans to be car-free by 2019, Madrid by 2020 and Helsinki by 2025. In Paris, car-free days have dramatically cut pollution and in China and the far-east new eco-cities design out the need for private vehicles altogether. In the Danish capital, Copenhagen, large areas have been closed to vehicles for decades, with dedicated bicycle routes stretching right across the city into every corner.

All of these cities enjoy better mental health and social cohesion, and thousands of lives have been saved as result. Children cycle to school, the elderly cycle to do their shopping and everyone feels safe and healthy. In Bristol, there’s not even a safe cycle route from the bus station to Temple Meads station.

If we don’t start planning to do the same, Britain will become an increasingly unattractive and unpleasant place to live and work, Brexit or no Brexit. That is why we need to be part of Europe and to follow their lead. And that is why we need to stop all cars in city centres, not just diesel ones.