go car free course

Lesson 3

Lesson 3: Un-Safe Space: How Cars Destroy Your Health and Lower Your Quality of Life

“I know that some people count their car commute as free time, or time to unwind. That’s bunk. During my free time I’m known to hit golf balls at the driving range, watch a movie, play cards, and even nod off. None of these things should be attempted while driving a car.”
 – Todd Koym

This lesson is about quality of life, which is not the same as standard of living. For example, a business executive who has a huge house, owns fancy cars, wears expensive suits, flies business class, and eats in fine restaurants has a high standard of living. But if that same executive is also a workaholic, has dysfunctional family relationships, has crippling debt, can barely make his mortgage payment, has high blood pressure and heart disease from poor diet and lack of exercise, suffers from debilitating job stress, has no free time, and has anxiety about his financial future, then he clearly has a low quality of life.

Living without a car can greatly improve your quality of life. It can give you greater peace of mind, lower your stress level, improve your health, eliminate hassles, provide more social interaction, and result in more free time.

Your standard of living can also improve. Without a car to pay for, you’ll be able to buy a nicer house and have more money to furnish it. You may be able to afford real vacations and frequent time off to travel. The only part of the standard-of-living equation you won’t have is the car.

Take a look at this YouTube video by avid bicyclist Ryan Van Duzer. His channel has lots of great cycling and adventure content. But I particularly like his description of the wellness boost and lifestyle benefits of going car free and riding a bike instead of driving.

Car Free Success Story:

The great payoffs of going car free or car lite are money and time. A car isn’t just an expense – though my car-bound friends do seem to spend a huge amount of money on car payments, gas, repairs, insurance, etc.—owning a car also eats time. After you go car free, add it up and all of a sudden you may be surprised to find that you have time to have a life.

John M.G., 43

Freelance Writer, Ashland, OR

Stop Hassling Me

An immediate benefit of going car free is the long list of hassles and frustrations you’ll no longer have to deal with. Every car – regardless of make, model, year, or price – comes with a collection of inconveniences and headaches that we wouldn’t tolerate from anything else in our lives. Yet for some reason, we accept this aggravation from our cars.

80 Things You’ll Never Miss About Owning a Car

  1. Spending time at gas stations
  2. Rising gas prices
  3. Hours of your life spent in traffic
  4. Highway construction delays
  5. Road rage
  6. Mysterious engine noises
  7. Screeching brakes
  8. Interior squeaks and rattles
  9. Annoying minor repairs
  10. Costly major repairs
  11. Trying to find a reputable car repair shop
  12. Waiting for your car to be fixed
  13. Wondering if you were overcharged
  14. Hoping it’s fixed right the first time
  15. Going back to have it fixed a second time
  16. Worrying about damage to your parked car
  17. Car theft, vandalism, and break-ins
  18. Chipped and cracked windshields
  19. Spending time and money on car washes
  20. Flat Tires
  21. Paying automobile taxes
  22. Paying registration fees
  23. Dead batteries
  24. Scraping ice off a frozen windshield
  25. Waiting for the car to warm up on a winter morning
  26. Tailgaters
  27. Altercations with other drivers
  28. Waiting in line at the DMV
  29. Getting pulled over for speeding
  30. Paying speeding tickets
  31. Paying parking tickets
  32. Paying tickets for expired tags
  33. Paying to renew your tags
  34. Having your car towed and impounded
  35. Going to traffic court
  36. Waiting in line to get your oil changed
  37. Forgetting to bring the oil change coupon
  38. Rust and deterioration
  39. Calling to schedule repairs
  40. Paying for the 30,000 mile tuneup
  1. Paying for the 60,000 mile tuneup
  2. Paying for the 100,000 mile tuneup
  3. Shopping for a car
  4. High-pressure car salespeople
  5. Negotiating a fair price
  6. Worrying about paying too much
  7. Buying a lemon
  8. Manufacturer recalls
  9. Hail and storm damage
  10. Fender benders, scrapes, and door dings
  11. Driving over debris in the road
  12. Buying car-wash products
  13. Vacuuming the interior
  14. Wasting time looking for a parking spot
  15. Paying to park
  16. That feeling of dread when your car won’t start
  17. Asking a stranger for a jump
  18. Shopping for car insurance
  19. Paying car insurance
  20. Car insurance increases
  21. Getting dropped by your insurance company
  22. Driving in snow and ice
  23. Uneven wear on tires
  24. Shopping for new tires
  25. Waiting to have tires rotated
  26. Trying to keep the mileage below the number allowed in your lease
  27. Paying a penalty for going over the allowed mileage
  28. Listening to endless commercials on the car radio
  29. Fighting with the radio to avoid commercials
  30. Developing a sedentary lifestyle
  31. Putting on weight from lack of exercise
  32. High cholesterol from eating drive-thru food
  33. Heart disease from eating drive-thru food
  34. Diabetes from eating drive-thru food
  35. Locking the keys in the car
  36. Remembering to feed your parking meter
  37. Forgetting to feed your meter
  38. Paying tolls
  39. Getting lost
  40. Pumping gas in the freezing cold

Some of the items on this list, taken by themselves, may not seem like a big deal. But what car owners fail to notice is the long-term, cumulative effect all these little nuisances have on overall quality of life. The items on this list cause aggravation, stress, and worry, and they contribute to a more complicated life. How nice would it be to leave all these problems behind. By going car free you can.

Car Free Success Story:

I don’t have to worry about ridiculously high gas prices. I don’t have to worry about insurance. Plus, riding a bike has put me in better physical shape than I’ve ever been in my life. I’ve dropped over forty pounds and my blood sugar is entirely under control without medication (I am Type 2 diabetic). I’ve found that most people who think they couldn’t live without a car only think that because they’ve used a car all their life and can’t conceive of doing things any other way.

John A., 33

Quality Assurance Supervisor, Sydney, Nova Scotia, Canada

Time is Money

The only thing cars soak up faster than your cash, is your free time. Every item on the list above, every car wash and fill-up, every tune-up and oil change, every visit to the DMV, and every item you buy to keep your car running and looking good takes precious time. And that’s just the beginning; you still have to include all the hours you spend actually driving your car and sitting in traffic, plus the thousands of hours you spend working to pay for your car.

According to the Surface Transportation Policy Project, the average American driver spends 443 hours behind the wheel each year. That’s equivalent to eleven forty-hour work weeks, or one-fifth of an entire work-year. Don’t you have something else you’d rather be doing?

When you go car free you’ll be surprised how much more free time you have. It was one of the first things I noticed after getting rid of my car. And it was wonderful.

Of course, when you live car free there will be delays and inconveniences that pop up in place of the many car-related time-wasters you’ll be eliminating. For example, time spent waiting at transit stops and filling out rental car paperwork. But armed with the information and strategies in this course, your car free lifestyle can be time-efficient and cost-effective. And every trade-off will be worth it tenfold.

“The typical American male devotes more than 1,600 hours a year to his car. He sits in it while it goes and while it stands idling. He parks it and searches for it. He earns the money to put down on it and to meet the monthly installments. He works to pay for gas, tolls, insurance, taxes, and tickets. He spends four of his sixteen waking hours on the road or gathering resources for it. And this figure does not take account of the time consumed by other activities dictated by transport: time spent in hospitals, traffic courts and garages; time spent watching automobile commercials or attending consumer education meetings to improve quality of the next buy. The model American puts in 1,600 hours to get 15,000 miles: less than ten miles an hour!”
 – Ivan Illich, Energy and Equity

Wasted Mental Energy

Cars also waste our mental energy. Every year your car forces you to think through thousands of little scenarios and make endless decisions. This is exhausting. “Is it safe to park my car here?” “Should I fill up with gas now, or drive on and look for a lower price?” “What would happen if I didn’t pay that parking ticket?” “I’m hungry, should I go to the Taco Bell drive-thru?”

When you own a car you also have to remember a lot more stuff. “Did I remember to pay the parking meter?” “I parked on the street, is it street sweeping day?” “When do I need to renew my driver’s license?” “Dangit, where did I park?”

When you don’t have a car to worry about, you’ll have thousands fewer decisions to make and less to remember. Which means you can devote more mental energy to important endeavors, or just relax and give your brain a rest. Either way, it will boost your quality of life.

Car Free Success Story:

Looking not too closely, someone might say that if I drove I’d have more time because it would take less time to drive. They’d be wrong when considering the time they spend feeding their car. Bicycling is the most efficient means of land travel known. That means it takes less time, effort, and cost to travel by bike. Therefore I have more time, effort, and funds for other things. Plus, some of my free/fun time is while biking to and from work. Yippee!

Jim B., 59

Management Analyst, San Diego, CA

cities with the worst traffic

Traffic Congestion

“Once we start widening roads to sixteen, seventeen, or eighteen lanes in each direction, that’s when traffic will start running smoothly.”
 – Ellen DeGeneres doing a comedy sketch on traffic – The Ellen DeGeneres Show

Who wants to spend time sitting in traffic? Nobody. But when you own a car, traffic is part of everyday life. According to a 2019 study by the transportation analytics firm INRIX, the average American spends 99 hours each year sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic. INRIX also calculated that traffic congestion costs each American driver $1,348 per year.

And traffic congestion is getting worse. In the year 2000 there were 215 million vehicles registered in the U.S. and 213 million licensed drivers. By 2020 that number grew to nearly 300 million registered vehicles and 228 million licensed drivers.

Traffic congestion diminishes quality of life by keeping people from their family and friends and by preventing them from participating in more productive activities or recreation. Traffic jams also lead to a higher likelihood of car crashes, injuries, and death. Traffic congestion causes increased fuel consumption, engine emissions, greenhouse gases, and smog. And sitting in traffic leads to stress, frustration, and road rage.

In an online poll, readers of Washingtonian magazine voted overwhelmingly that commuting was their single largest waste of time. A study of urban traffic congestion by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute estimated that traffic jams cause 6.9 billion hours of travel delays for U.S. drivers every year, and 8.7 billion liters of wasted fuel. The estimated the total cost of traffic congestion in the U.S. at $160 billion annually.

The Worst U.S. Cities for Traffic

New York



Los Angeles

Washington, D.C.

Dallas/Fort Worth





Car Free Success Story:

For as long as I can remember, my father would commute thirty to forty-five minutes each way to work. I remember him always complaining about the traffic and how it put him in a bad mood and made him cranky and tired. Sitting in his car for that long beat him up mentally. When you’re tired from a day of work and a long commute, it’s hard to muster up energy to do things with the family.

So, from a young age I saw that sitting in traffic was less than desirable. Most people buy homes in the suburbs because they can get “more house for the money.” However, what they’re saving in house cost, they’re almost spending in gas money and wear and tear on their car. So, I moved to within one mile of work. I could go on for hours about the advantages. Like no longer having to plan my day around commuting and traffic, sleeping later, and having more free time. Now, I’m home in five minutes. It’s so common for people to make excuses why they don’t want to live closer to work. In my mind it’s about quality of life, plain and simple. The less you sit in traffic, the better your life will be.

Todd S., 30

Play-by-Play Sports Announcer, St. Louis, MO

The Vox documentary below illustrates another problem caused by cars. When too many cars cause traffic jams, cities and counties invariably build more roads and widen highways in an attempt to alleviate the traffic. But ironically, this just attracts more cars. The only solution to traffic is convincing fewer people to drive.

Health Concerns


Traffic jams can do more than just put you in a bad mood; they can ruin your health. According to Dr. Karol E. Watson, MD, PhD, director of the UCLA Center for Cholesterol and Hypertension Management, “Heavy traffic has been shown to produce a high degree of stress which could be a catalyst for stroke and heart attack. A stressful commute coupled with high blood pressure may be a dangerous combination for morning commuters.”

The hallmark of car addiction is a sedentary lifestyle. A 2004 study by the RAND Corporation, the nation’s largest independent health policy research organization, found that sedentary suburbanites are more likely to suffer chronic health problems such as high blood pressure, asthma, headaches, diabetes, migraines, urinary tract infections, back pain, and obesity. The co-author of the study, Dr. Deborah Cohen, said, “To improve our health the study suggests that we should build cities where people feel comfortable walking and are not so dependent on cars.”


Interior Air Quality


But at least your car seals out the toxic exhaust emissions from other cars as you’re driving down the highway, right? Wrong. A study by the California Air Resources Board found that exposure to air pollution may be up to ten times higher inside vehicles than in ambient air outside. Dr. Alan Lloyd, CARB chairman said, “We’re learning that people’s highest daily exposure to air pollutants may be during their commute to and from work.” The study also concluded that engaging a car’s air filtration system, or closing its air vents, did little to lower pollution levels inside the vehicle.

Watch this fascinating video about interior air quality. The host drives around with an air quality monitor and measures the level of carcinogenic pollutants inside and outside the car. Scary.

Crash Risk

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration there were 5.25 million motor vehicle crashes on U.S. roadways in 2021. More than two million people were injured in those crashes, and 42,915 people died.

Car crashes are the leading cause of death among children and young adults. Past U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta said the problem of highway deaths is a “national epidemic” and costs society $230 billion a year, or about $820 for every American citizen.

“Life happens between empty and full.”
 – Ad copy from a Phillips 66 gasoline commercial


The Federal Highway Administration estimates the total cost of every traffic crash which results in at least one fatality is $2.9 million. That cost includes: property damage, medical expenses, lost wages, emergency services, administrative and legal fees, travel delays, workplace costs, vocational rehabilitation, pain, and loss of quality of life for the injured. The average cost of a car accident with minor injuries is $13,900. A crash resulting in disabling injuries can cost nearly $1 million.

“More than twice as many people have died since 1900 in U.S. car collisions as have been killed in all the wars in U.S. history. It is a heavy toll from a conflict largely overlooked: the war waged on us by the car.”
 – Katie Alvord, Divorce Your Car

Just watch your local morning news traffic report for a few days and you’ll understand how common serious automobile crashes are. On any given morning there are likely to be a half dozen accidents with injuries on your local news. The more you drive, the more likely you are to be involved in a crash.

The chilling part is the way crashes are described in the radio traffic reports. “Injury accident on 405 north near the Getty is blocking the two left lanes; you might want to take 101 instead.” Lives have been altered forever, but never mind; you just need to know how to avoid the delay.

Car Free Success Story:

There aren’t many real dangers in modern life, but commuting at high speed on a congested highway is one. And it affects one’s emotions; it is deadening and stressing. I could have improved my work situation had I commuted an hour in heavy traffic. I gave it thought but decided against. My health is more important.

Tim A., Ph.D., 51

Business Development Consultant, Ann Arbor, MI

Road Rage

It is nearly impossible to collect accurate statistical data on the number of road rage incidents. But a study of 11,120 drivers by the website RoadRagers.com found 38 percent of people admitted to getting into confrontations with other drivers. Seventy-eight percent admitted to using obscene gestures while driving. And 60 percent felt that “all other drivers are complete idiots.” A survey conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found 60 percent of people felt that unsafe driving by others is a major personal threat to their families.

So what leads to road rage? According to the NHTSA, “Many psychologists blame the intoxicating combination of power and anonymity provided by motor vehicles.”

Car Free Success Story:

I live in Los Angeles, California, where I’m the director of online sales for a small company. I’ve been completely car free for five years. I made the choice foremost because owning a car is increasingly costly and frustrating – traffic congestion, taxes and fees, smog, parking. Plus, time spent in cars is of very low quality because of social isolation, separation from the environment, and the low sensual quality of most road and highway infrastructure.

In stark contrast to that, living car free is liberating, exhilarating, helps you meet more people, and creates greater social interaction. Life without a car is more varied, rich, and intense. And you have more sensory, intellectual, and social stimulation.

You also stay thinner, look better, have a lower heart rate and higher endurance. I also eat better, fresher food because I shop at a local farmer’s market. I find I can get 95 percent of everything I need within a short bicycle ride. If I wanted to, I could rent a car every weekend and still come out way ahead.

I have all the friends I did when I had a car, and new ones too. But unlike my friends who drive, I go to more places and do more stuff than anyone else I know because I never worry about parking problems.

Advice: just commit yourself to it and it becomes easy.

Richard R., 52

Director of Online Sales, Los Angeles, CA

Noise Pollution

Automobiles are the primary source of noise pollution in cities. Noise pollution can cause sleep loss, headaches, stomachaches, increased blood pressure, degenerative hearing loss, and compromised immune system function. It can also have a damaging economic impact by lowering property values. Noise pollution makes conversation difficult and reduces human interaction.

A noise level of about 85 decibels can begin to cause hearing loss. A hairdryer typically runs at about 75 to 90 decibels. City automobile traffic ranges from about 80 to 100 decibels.

The article below from SmartCitiesDive.com cites a United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) report about the debilitating effects of noise pollution caused by traffic. The article states, “The problem doesn’t just have implications for hearing loss; the UN group cites growing evidence that traffic noise exposure is a risk factor for the development of cardiovascular and metabolic disorders.” Read the full article by clicking on the image below.

Noise Pollution

Animal Casualties

An estimated one million animals die on U.S. roadways every day. Automobiles harm wildlife in other ways, too. According to the Humane Society, the most serious threat to wildlife in the U.S. is habitat fragmentation caused by road and highway construction. Fragmentation forces animals to live in areas too small to meet their basic needs for food, water, shelter, and finding a mate.


The Sierra Club defines sprawl as, “irresponsible, poorly planned development that destroys green space, increases traffic, crowds schools, and drives up taxes.” Suburban sprawl devours one million acres of forest, farmland, and open fields every year. Sprawl spreads out homes, schools, and amenities, which makes people drive more and spend more time in their cars and away from family. According to the Sierra Club, people who live in sprawling suburbs drive three or four times more than people who live in dense urban areas.

Sprawl is costly. Instead of spending money and tax dollars to improve existing communities, sprawl forces tax dollars to be spread thin building new roads and new schools and to fund new police and fire districts. And sprawl is self-perpetuating; more traffic leads to the widening of highways and new road construction, which in turn leads to more development, more cars, and ultimately more sprawl.

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) produced a quick video titled “Urban Sprawl: Pushing Our Cities to Their Limits.” Check it out, and visit OECD.org for more information.

Car Free Success Story:

Overall, living car free is easy. It just takes planning. I have a lot less stress in my life because I don’t have a car. Driving is very frustrating. But for some reason people accept that. When I rent a car I’m reminded just how awful and nerve-racking it is to drive.

James C., 47

University Staff Member, Chapel Hill, NC

Why Pay All That Money for All Those Problems?

To summarize this lesson, cars waste our money, waste our time, squander our mental and physical energy, force us to sit in traffic jams, deteriorate our health, and cause us to risk serious injury and death every day. Why pay all that money for something that causes so many problems?

To be fair, when you live car free you will incur some expense, some risk, and some waste, but only a tiny fraction of what’s created by owning a car. If you can live without a car it can not only change your financial life for the better, it can change your whole life for the better.

Now let’s move on to Lesson 4, Eco-Challenged: Why Cars Are an Environmental Disaster.

In this lesson you’ll learn about the many environmental problems created by so many cars. Greenhouse gas emissions are not the only eco-challenge caused by cars, the problems are much deeper than that. Check out Lesson 4 to learn more.

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