Doug Gordon, Sarah Goodyear and Aaron Naparstek, The War on Cars

IssueApril - May 2023
Review by Andrea Needham

In the first episode of this podcast, one of the three presenters asks why we need a war on cars – and more specifically, a ‘War on Cars’ podcast.

In reply, presenter Sarah Goodyear describes an incident when she was cycling to the studio that day and was almost flattened by an SUV driver steaming through a stop sign.

When Goodyear remonstrated with the driver, she received outraged abuse: ‘You shouldn’t even be in the fucking street!’ Her conclusion? ‘I gotta talk about this shit.’

And talking about this shit – our entrenched, dangerous, polluting, community-destroying car culture – is exactly what The War on Cars does.

Over the course of over 100 episodes since it began in 2018, the podcast has examined everything from why tech can’t solve our transport problems to why there are roads but no bike lanes in Lego sets.

It has looked at e-bikes, public transport, SUVs [four-wheel drive off-road-type cars], urban design, pedestrian fatalities, and ‘accidents’ that are not accidents but the logical consequence of the way that cars are allowed to dominate so many human environments.

One fascinating recent episode (‘Car Brain’) interviewed Ian Walker, professor of environmental psychology at Swansea University, about his research on what he calls ‘motornormativity’: the ‘cultural inability to think objectively and dispassionately’ about car use.

In his research, Walker asked some people questions about driving-related risk, while others were asked near-identical questions about other risks, such as smoking or theft.

For example, some people were asked whether they agreed with the statement, ‘People shouldn’t smoke in highly populated areas where other people have to breathe in the cigarette fumes.’ 75 percent agreed.

But when ‘shouldn’t smoke’ was changed to ‘shouldn’t drive’, only 17 percent of people agreed.

Walker says this shows how people accept the risks of driving far more readily than other risks in life (and, I would add, accept the risks not so much to themselves, but to wider society and the environment).

I am a bit of a ranter when it comes to cars. And the presenters of The War on Cars can rant with the best of them. But, at the same time, they look at solutions, at how things are done better in other countries, and how we can reduce the overwhelming dominance of cars in our urban areas.

The message is that we don’t have to live like this. It’s all even more relevant at a time when the concept of liveable, walkable cities has been seized on by conspiracy theorists as the next move of a supposed global elite intent on controlling us.

I love this podcast: the quirkiness, the humour, the seriousness and the huge range of topics covered. Who couldn’t love a podcast with an episode titled ‘Cars as a virus’? And I love the presenters. And I also love that they make no attempt to be ‘neutral’. This is a war, after all.

On the website, there’s an advert for a job as a producer on the show. Requirements include: ‘Creativity plus a burning passion to liberate your city from space-hogging, horn-honking, exhaust-spewing, human-squashing, planet-cooking metal boxes on wheels.’

I have found my people.

Topics: Transport