One day car free

One day car freeIn a previous post I wrote about the benefits of eating vegan for one day. Here I discuss the benefits of living car free for one day. In particular: what if an average person in Belgium replaces car transport by public transport (train and bus) for all distances longer than 10 km and car by bike for all distances shorter than 10 km? How much harm is caused by just those few minutes a day that one uses a car? What is avoided each day by being car free?

Short summary: a car free day saves 20 hours of the life of a vertebrate animal due to less road kill, almost 50 minutes of your own life due to less chronic diseases and car accidents and more than 20 minutes of someone else’s life due to less health impact from global warming, air pollution and car accidents.

Note 1: I exclude the environmental impacts of production of the cars and construction of the roads.

Note 2: for each result I also give my epistemic status, i.e. my level of confidence in the results.

Note 3: the results are expectation values.

Note 4: unless otherwise stated, the values below correspond to the harm done by 1 car user per day, who travels 30 km by car per day.


Harm to the animals

The death of 2 vertebrate animals per 1000 car users per day [Epistemic status: moderate]. For one car user, this corresponds with the loss of 20 hours of the life of a vertebrate wild animal (toad, bird, fox,…) [Epistemic status: low]


Harm to the environment

The emissions of 5 kg CO2. [Epistemic status: high] These emissions contribute to climate change and generate a health cost on future generations (diarrhea, malnutrition due to harvesting loss, cardiovascular disease due to heat waves, malaria due to the spread of mosquitoes by higher temperatures and floods due to extreme weather events and sea level rise), resulting in an expected 10 minutes shortening of someone else’s life in the near future. [Epistemic status: very low]


Harm to the human population

The emissions of 2 gram particulate matter of which almost 50% is PM2,5. [Epistemic status: high] Together with other forms of air pollution, this corresponds with a 10 minutes shortening of someone’s life due to human toxicity of pollutants (e.g. respiratory diseases). [Epistemic status: very low]

The death of 37 non-motorized road users per billion car users due to car accidents. [Epistemic status: high] For 1 car user, this corresponds with a 1 minute shortening of the life of a pedestrian or cyclist. [Epistemic status: low]


Harm to your health (as a car user)

The loss of 0,25 hours of physical activity (cycling). [Epistemic status: high] This lack of activity results in a higher risk for chronic diseases (e.g. cardiovascular diseases), corresponding with an expected 45 minutes shortening of your life. [Epistemic status: low]

The death of 80 passengers (including car drivers) per billion car users per day [Epistemic status: high]. This corresponds with an expected 2 minutes shortening of your life. [Epistemic status: low]


Calculations and sources

Average distance travelled by car in Belgium is 30 km per person per day, of which 5 km for short distances less than 10 km. (Mobiel Vlaanderen, Onderzoek Verplaatsingsgedrag Vlaanderen 5.1 (2015-2016) This means a car free day involves 5 km extra cycling and 25 km extra public transport.


For the animals

Road kill in Belgium involves 24000 animals per day. Assuming all these deaths comes from passenger cars, this equals 0,00007 animals killed per km car use. An animal killed by a car is assumed to lose 1 year of life.


For the environment

Total emissions for passenger car transport in Flanders is 2,2 ton CO2e per person per year. (Vercalsteren A., Boonen K., Christis M., Dams Y., Dils E., Geerken T. & Van der Linden A. (VITO), Vander Putten E. (VMM) (2017), Koolstofvoetafdruk van de Vlaamse consumptie, studie uitgevoerd in opdracht van de Vlaamse Milieumaatschappij, MIRA, MIRA/2017/03, VITO, VITO/2017/SMAT/R.) CO2 emissions from public transport per passengerkilometer are assumed to be 1/3 of the car emissions.

The health cost due to climate change, per unit CO2 emitted is 3,5 DALYs (disability adjusted life years) per 1000 ton CO2 according to the egalitarian perspective in the ReCiPe-model (Goedkoop M. e.a. (2009). ReCiPe 2008. A life cycle impact assessment method which comprises harmonised category indicators at the midpoint and the endpoint level. Report I: Characterisation. Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and Environment, the Netherlands.) This corresponds with the loss of 1,8 healthy life years per kg CO2e.


For the human population

Particulate matter emissions from road traffic in Flanders are 2100 ton PM2,5 and 3000 ton PM10, for a population of 6,3 million car users. (VMM (2016). Lozingen in de lucht 2000-2016).

Loss of healthy life years due to particulate matter and human toxicity of air pollution from 1 km driving by average car, is 0,0000009 DALY/km, which equals 0,5 minutes/km. Emissions from public transport per passengerkilometer are assumed to be 1/3 of the car emissions.

There are 640 human deaths by road accidents in Belgium in 2016, of which 23% pedestrian and cyclists. I assume all deaths come from car accidents (i.e. no truck accidents). That is 4×10^-8 pedestrians and cyclists killed per car user per day. Death by accidents results in an average of 40 years of life lost.


For your health

Physical activity for 20 minutes saves 2 microlives, which equals a 1 hour longer life. (Spiegelhalter D. (2012). Using speed of ageing and “microlives” to communicate the effects of lifetime habits and environment, Britisch Medical Journal, 345:e8676). 5 km cycling at 20 km/hour equals 0,25 hours physical activity.

There are 640 deaths by road accidents in Belgium in 2016, of which 50% drivers and passengers. That is 8×10^-8 pedestrians and cyclists killed per car user per day. Death by accidents results in an average of 40 years of life lost.


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