Carjacked: The Culture of the Automobile and Its Effect on Our Lives
Catherine Lutz and Anne Lutz Fernandez
Palgrave Macmillan, 2010, 254 pages, ISBN 9780230618138

If you are solidly or fervently in the carfree camp, this book might exasperate you. Despite the edgy first word in the title, this book is not edgy – it’s gentle. While it offers suggestions for changing the “car system” in America, it does so in a polite, muted way: “We need to rethink what we truly need and reclaim the control and freedom we like to imagine the car has given us.” They are not calling for radical change. Instead, these sisters, who lost a cousin and a close friend in car crashes, write about lessening the negative aspects of cars while still owning a car.

The book is well researched and includes many stick-in-your-head details: the average American spends 18.5 hours a week in their car, all the parking spaces in the USA could fill the state of Georgia, car makers spend the equivalent of US$630 on advertising per car sold. The chapters focus on describing the current car system, addressing the downsides (money wasted, lives lost, kilos gained, social inequities created) in a gently relentless way. I enjoyed chapter 2 the most, where they looked at the stories Americans tell themselves about cars (they give us freedom, individuality, status etc.) and poked holes in each myth. Each chapter ends with a suggestion for change, though it’s made quickly and without much detail, such as: “The one thing we can do today to help keep our families healthy is to make the conscious decision to drive less.” The final chapter presents an array of suggestions such as log your driving miles, sell your second or third car, delay your teen’s driving, shop on the Internet and support transportation advocacy groups. I appreciate that they address multiple approaches to changing car culture from buying smaller, used cars and driving less to making driving safer and getting politically involved in transportation issues.

Folks who live without a car are not portrayed in flattering ways. “Carless adults,” they write, “cope with the anxiety or guilt of relying on others for rides or the shame of seeming somehow immature, inadequate, or incompetent.” Riding a bike or walking instead of driving is suggested as a possibility but only for short trips when the weather is nice and the air quality is good. (I wouldn’t leave home for weeks at a time if I followed these guidelines!) But they didn’t write this book for me or anyone else carfree. They wrote it for the millions of people who haven’t given much thought to how they could get around differently. The reviewers on Amazon lauded the book as engaging and thoughtful and noted that it had altered their perspective. Perhaps then this book, in its own way, is radical. It might just sneak up on some unsuspecting drivers and jump start them into rethinking their car.

Reviewed by Kelly Nelson

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