Can Auto Enthusiasts Help Fight Car Dependency?
12:01 AM EDT on July 25, 2022
A new video about the dangers of car dependency by a popular automotive vlogger is prompting a conversation about how people who love cars can help dismantle a transportation system that privileges autos above all else.
YouTuber Ethan Tufts of HelloRoad.tv gained an unlikely new following among sustainable transportation advocates last week with the release of, "I'm a Car Enthusiast That is Starting to Hate Cars; Here's Why." After nearly five years of producing fairly standard reviews of Knight Rider knock-offs and the latest electric pick-ups and amassing a following of over 31,000 subscribers, Tufts began to question the impact his channel having on his life — and society at large. He struggled to afford and maintain a sprawling fleet of 13 vehicles at his Los Angeles home, and it was even harder find a place to safely teach his daughter to ride a bike on his neighborhood streets.
And he also noticed that the classic cars of the late 20th century that first sparked his love of the mode — he affectionally calls them "80s shitboxes" — were increasingly being dwarfed by the new model megacars he was being paid the most to promote, making it harder to see anyone who crossed their paths.
"Like many people, I was indoctrinated at a very early age to live a car-dependent lifestyle; I played with Matchbox cars as a kid, I drew cars all the time, and I grew up to own over 50 of them over the years," Tufts said. "But then I started to notice these huge blind spots — both figuratively and literally — in car design and the conversation about it."
Tufts's curiosity about those blind spots lead him down a rabbit hole of research about the impacts of car dependency. He pored over data about choking traffic, devastating road death tolls, and the staggering financial costs automobility imposes even on those who own just one car, nevermind a dozen clunkers. Those insights became the backbone of the latter half of his video, which is essentially an 11-minute rundown of some of sustainable transportation advocates' most frequent talking points, carefully presented for an automotive crowd that he worried might be hesitant to hear this message.
"Nobody in the car world seemed to be talking about this stuff," Tufts said. "It just made me start to question what the heck I was doing, giving free promotion to all these large, inefficient, dangerous cars, for the benefit of these automakers whose motivation, obviously, is just profit."
The new video — which Tufts said he shot twice, because he seemed too angry in the first take — has garnered about 8,000 views so far, a fraction of the 400,000 watches he won for a particularly popular video about budget BMWs. His follower count, though, didn't plunge like he'd feared, and he even picked up about 500 new subscribers, particularly among the sustainable transportation advocates who promoted the video widely on Twitter (and asked Tufts to please not film future videos from his dashboard mount while the car was in motion.)
Even if Tufts's die-hard gearhead fans aren't all watching his new video yet, a lot of them will probably watch his feed in the future — and he's actively exploring what the future might be. Some of those entries may initially look like standard car reviews, he says, but they'll also show prospective buyers information that automakers don't want them to know, like how much their infotainment systems are likely to distract them and cause a crash, or how many children can fit in the blind spots of their new rides. (Safety advocates believe the federal New Car Assessment Program should tell drivers things like that by default — and someday, prevent manufacturers from selling deadly vehicles in the first place — but it currently doesn't.)
Tufts is also mulling over how to talk about the long-term costs of car ownership to his audience, and possibly nudge some of them not to own a car at all, or at least not to add any additional vehicles to their monthly budgets. Studies estimate that a lifetime of owning, maintaining, and insuring an automobile costs drivers about $650,000 on the low end, and that's for the kind of small-format vehicles that are increasingly impossible to buy in the U.S.
"There are a lot of people spending $70 to 90k on luxury dual cab pick-up trucks, not really seeing how financially ridiculous that is," Tufts said. "They know they have to have a car, so they think they might as well get something that they can use to haul something once a year, or that’s going to reflect their personality. But over their lifetime, that vehicle will cost them so much ... I think we need to talk to people right at the point of buying cars like these. Those are the people who are ready to continue the cycle of car dependency, and maybe they could make a different choice."
A lot of research, by the way, suggests that he's right; psychologists say that big shifts in routine, like having the family car break down and going on an online hunt to find a new one, is the perfect time to experiment with new habits, like riding the bus.
Tufts emphasizes that he "not quite an 'r/fuckcars' guy on Reddit yet," and that he'll probably keep tuning up classic whips on the weekends. But he also emphasizes that it's perfectly possible to appreciate the beauty of the automobile as a machine and the pleasure of some driving experiences, while also working to dismantle the ugly effects car dominance has on U.S. communities.
"There are a lot of car enthusiasts out there that do care about this kind of thing, but they don't know how to frame it," Tufts said. "They would like a world whey they don’t have to drive to work every single day, where they could take a bus to the beach in a reasonable amount of time...and when they do drive somewhere, like on an occasional road trip, they want there to be fewer cars on the road so they can actually enjoy it rather than sitting in traffic the whole time."
Tufts still worries that the new direction of his feed will alienate some of his auto-addicted audience, and that he might be too car-friendly for his newfound fans in the sustainable transportation community. But he's still excited about whatever comes next.
"I’m not anti-car, but maybe I can help people understand that there are catastrophic problems with car dependency, and maybe there are some places where cars are useful, and others where cars are awful and should be removed ... I like these machines, but I guess at some point, I realized I was making the world worse rather than making it better."
Kea Wilson is editor of Streetsblog USA. She has more than a dozen years experience as a writer telling emotional, urgent and actionable stories that motivate average Americans to get involved in making their cities better places. She is also a novelist, cyclist, and affordable housing advocate. She previously worked at Strong Towns, and currently lives in St. Louis, MO. Kea can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @streetsblogkea. Please reach out to her with tips and submissions.
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