In a single century, the introduction of the automobile has spurred massive changes in American culture, the communities in which we live, the environment, the economy, and personal independence. Every aspect of daily life has changed, from the places we live, to the food that we eat.
Automobiles, increasingly available to anyone, have blurred social class distinctions, expanded markets, and stimulated the economy. The industry directly employs more than 2.6 million people and, according to Auto Alliance, accounts for 3% to 3.5% of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP).
The American love affair with cars is evident in the number owned. According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, there were more than 250 million registered vehicles in the United States in 2012, or one for every American over the age of 18. The average household owns 1.75 vehicles. Drivers traveled more than 2.8 billion miles over 4.5 million miles of roads and highways and 605,471 bridges in the nation that year.
Consumers can choose from a plethora of manufacturers of cars, all of which produce different makes, models, and body styles. The vehicles can then be further customized by color, engine type, transmission, interior design, and type of wheels. In addition, there are thousands of auto repair shops, high-performance mechanics, and body customizing shops ready to fulfill the dreams of any automobile owner.
The Negative Impact of Automobiles on Modern Life
For all of its contributions to modern life, the automobile has also wrought considerable negative consequences for individuals and society as a whole:
The purchase and ongoing operation of an automobile is one of the biggest expenditures that the typical person makes in a lifetime. Automobiles account for about one-sixth of a family’s budget, more than food or healthcare and insurance combined, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The BLS reports that in 2010 the average passenger car in the U.S. was 11.4 years old and was driven 11,318 miles while burning $2,132 on gas and oil. Furthermore, drivers spent, on average, $787 for repairs and maintenance.
Deaths and Injuries
According to the United States Census Bureau, since 1990, more than 10 million accidents involving cars occur each year, causing more than 30,000 deaths per year. While the rate declines each year – reflecting improvements in design and new technology – the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that the cost of accidents in 2010 was $871 billion.