I want you to take a second and think about yourself, and the relationships that you have. I don’t want this to get super deep, but just take a minute to consider a healthy relationship in your life. From my own experience, I can imagine that you might be thinking of something that involves trust that’s founded on a history of truth, maybe it’s a relationship that comes from a general fondness for a person, animal, or object. If it is a living being, there is probably a perceived mutual element to the relationship. There are a lot of other things involved in healthy relationships, but for the sake of brevity, this seems to be a good enough foundation for us to move forward

Now, imagine that you’re in a relationship. You’ve been going steady for a long time. At first, they needed you much more than you needed them. You were independent, moved about freely, without much restriction. The world around you was a bit haphazard, but everything that you needed was nearby and easily accessible without the aide of this person. You had seen this person around, and neither of you were interested in the other. You just weren’t the right type of person for them, and you had no need for them. Until you started to see more and more of them, they were nearly unavoidable. They had had some work done, which made them more appealing to you, and their very presence was changing the world around you. Suddenly, things were getting farther and farther away. You had less freedom to move around on your own, and you were becoming less independent. You began to realize that you needed them, because the world was changing. However, you still had your doubts. You had heard that they were kind of dangerous, that they had hurt a lot of people in the past, and you just weren’t sure that you wanted to enter into anything long-term. But, they had some pretty convincing friends, who worked hard to put your doubts to rest, who crafted a narrative that made them seem safe, and secure, and necessary to your daily life, and the story was incredibly convincing. So you decided to try it out, and you realized how much easier your life had become with them. The doubts that you had before didn’t completely disappear, but the narrative of their friends allowed you to push all of that to the side. For a while, everything seemed to be going great. Until some of your friends started to nag you a bit, and bring up those doubts you had about your safety that you used to have. And they had very convincing evidence to back their side of the argument. However, you were in too deep and there was nothing you could do to get out of this relationship at this point. You needed them too much. And while you had nagging fears in the back of your mind, you tried to convince yourself that everything would be alright, because you weren’t like others, you were smarter and safer and more aware. You had friends who had similar relationships, so it must be alright. So you stayed.

Reading that scenario, it would seem that I am describing an abusive relationship, and I am. But rather than discussing a relationship between two people, I am talking about the love affair that people have with their cars in the United States, what has often been called a Love/Hate relationship. However, our history with these vehicles seems to suggest something more. Cars started out as the toys of rich, young, adventure-seeking white men, and somehow they have grown into a critical aspect of every day life in the United States. We live in a culture quite seriously built around cars, in a way that is very specific and, often times, unique to the United States. Automotive travel was keenly in mind in the way that cities grew during the twentieth century. Suburban sprawl changed the distance between homes and places of business, which fundamentally changed the way we think about travel. Cars have become so integral to being a citizen in the United States, that the sad reality is that many people will choose to purchase a car before they purchase a home, because they need a car in order to work.

There was once a time when pedestrians were the dominant force on the roads, when people could walk freely about. However, with an increase in motor vehicles, came restrictions on the movement of pedestrians. Suddenly, crossing a street at what was deemed an improper time was criminalized. Moreover, for a serious chunk of the history of the car, pedestrians were blamed for accidents, rather than a combination of drivers, vehicles, and pedestrians. Cities expanded outwards, with suburbs becoming commonplace escapes for middle class, white Americans, and with that expansion, came a greater distance between the home and the workplace, mostly for American men. However, women were also affected, because schools and shopping centers were also now located further from the home than they once were. So middle class families were driven (pardon the pun) to the car out of necessity. A culture has cropped up around the car, a love affair, even. People name their cars, they are seen as vital members to a functioning family. Many people take better car of their cars then they do their homes.

However, none of these events downplay the danger that is involved in driving a car. Over 30000 people are killed by cars in the United States annually, nearly 100 people per day. You are more likely to be killed by a car than you are to die in a plane crash, and yet most people fear flying much more than they fear getting behind the wheel and driving.

I do not mean to downplay abusive relationships, because I realize that they are complicated affairs, and the people involved face decisions that many of us can never fathom to be faced with. I was simply using the metaphor to show that there is a bit of a complicated and toxic relationship and culture that surrounds the automobile in the United States. One that requires us to rethink some of the preconceived notions that we have about this piece of technology

We live a culture that, literally, lives or dies by the car. Whether or not it is an abusive relationship, is for you to decide.