Let’s talk about car ideology

Robbie Danger
6 min readApr 8, 2022

Kia ora, just a note that this essay contains content about car violence and cyclist death, if you’re not up for that today, please feel free to sit this one out.

A film photo I took on a recent bikepacking trip, bit of a popular area for burned out cars.

You can be an ally in the war against cars. Consider this an open invite.

I used to think how people behaved in their cars towards others was an innocent accident. They didn’t mean it. From that slightly-too-close pass, to inching out into a left hand turn–to blocking another footpath. All simple ignorance.

Lately I choose not to be an apologist for ignorant car driving. Oppression by car perpetuates a certain type of society. One that favours people who are white, male, cisgender, heterosexual and able-bodied. A society that venerates the car as an object of success and social mobility.

What if car driving is an ideology?

A few examples

The speedster

A near miss with a red light runner at a crossing on the Northwestern Cycleway

This is an amazing piece of footage. I’m glad that both Les and the pedestrian made it out of the narrow miss unharmed. This category of car violence is reserved for people who feel they are in a hurry and very important, and don’t care that they are piloting a dangerous machine.

The street litterer

A memorial for cyclist Melissa Rays, struck by a driver less than a week ago, moved to accommodate illegal footpath parking.

Drivers will do anything to park close to where they want to go, including shifting a monument to a cyclist who was struck and killed only five days before. They will obstruct footpaths and bike lanes, and hurl abuse at anyone who dares to tell them not to.

Drivers refuse to share, because the car is the symbol of ultimate autonomy without regard to the needs of others — go anywhere you want, emit all the emissions, and get angry when anyone gets in your way.

The media writer

The media’s approach to reporting on injuries and death perpetuated by motorists against cyclists.

We see these headlines again and again, determined to not allege fault in incidents that clearly have an imbalance of power. None are more shocking than “A child cyclist, who was not wearing a helmet, has received minor injuries in a collision with a car”.

It feeds into motorists’ confirmation bias that the cyclist is at fault.

Most regular cyclists come with a story of a crash caused by a driver, where said driver will turn around and say that the cyclist was going too fast, not wearing their preferred safety gear, or simply that cycling on the roads is very dangerous (implied: you shouldn’t have been here in the first place).

The ignorant lobbyist

A lot of the anti-speed limits, anti-cycle lane feedback is very silly, but if we face the facts, these beliefs are taken seriously by people who spout them and therefore must be considered dangerous. Especially given that these beliefs can be and are held by decision-makers like local board members, councillors, and people who work in and manage transport organisations.

Unsubstantiated opinions like these:

  • The speed limit shouldn’t be lowered, I can drive at this speed fine and people who can’t should drive slower” — typically this person is the danger to other road users, not the imaginary person who “can’t drive”
  • Removing carparks will kill my local business” — proven again and again not to be true, when carparks are replaced by active transport infrastructure local businesses become more profitable
  • “No need to do anything here because nobody cycles or walks around here” — usually a great reason to build more friendly infrastructure

Even the mayor of Auckland, Phil Goff said “it will look “bloody arrogant” to tell a member of the public they are losing their parking space and [they] won’t have a say about it.”–as reported in the NZ Herald, 4th November 2021.

Advocates for safe walking, cycling and public transport infrastructure constantly have their time sucked up by submitting on public consultations, because the pro-car lobby will always be out in force.

Words matter

Transport emissions have been identified by the IPCC as a key area that offers a lot of potential emissions reductions, at a low cost, and can be implemented right away with technology that we have today.

So why is it so hard?

Let’s talk a bit about the parallels between car ideology and white supremacy.

White supremacy is a system that perpetuates greater opportunity, wealth, safety and advantage for people who are racially white. It also favours the cisgender, heterosexual nuclear family and patriarchal structures. I’m not going to go into great detail here, but if you’d like to read up please visit these excellent resources from Racial Equity Tools.

There are a lot of incorrect beliefs that allow white supremacist structures to continue:

  • It’s something that extremists do, not “everyday nice people”
  • It’s only done intentionally
  • People have the rights to the same privileges that people have been afforded in the past
  • Advocates who speak up about privilege are blaming and shaming
  • People should not have to cede any of their wealth or privilege for the sake of others if it isn’t directly their fault

Sound familiar?

Car violence is capitalism. Capitalism is white supremacy. White supremacy is patriarchy. Patriarchy is car violence.

The fight against car violence is inherently political because it questions the idea that people should consume as hard and as fast as possible at the expense of others. That the ultimate goal might not be to choose individualism but instead to choose community.

It should come as no surprise that people who are pro-car are also predominately older, male, and white.

It should also come as no surprise that people who cycle here are also predominately older, male, and white. Marginalised groups are less likely to choose to be in danger during their form of transport, because they already experience risk, and are often underserved by infrastructure, marketing and advocacy groups.

This in itself is a tragedy because riding a bike is cheap, fun, and everyone deserves to be able to take part. Many people who cycle not by choice, but because they don’t own a car (due to cost), or can’t hold a licence (due to a physical or cognitive impairment) also deserve to have their streets made safe.

It’s time to stop being nice about cars

Nice people perpetuate these systems of oppression by claiming that they’re just trying to go about living their life, throw their hands up, say they don’t want or need to get involved.

Nice transport executives don’t want to take infrastructure away from other vehicles — they’ll feel bad.

Nice cyclists perpetuate car supremacy — if you believe that because as an able bodied cyclist you are capable of riding on the road and therefore bike lanes are not needed.

Nice commenters, friends and family spread the myth that cycling is a bourgeois sport for affluent, latte-sipping middle aged white men from Grey Lynn. Despite being the cheapest, most accessible mode of transport around. Ignoring the use of bicycles by people who have no other means of transit.

And all of this niceness is getting real people, really killed.

The fight against car violence is a fight for equity. Climate change is already disproportionately affecting poor and marginalised communities worldwide, and we desperately need to cut emissions yesterday.

We need to pull every lever available.

Demand zero deaths on our roads.

Demand that we build infrastructure for people, not cars.

Vote in your local elections.

I would like to acknowledge the lives of Melissa and Levi, lost within one short month in Tāmaki Makaurau due to moments of inattention by car drivers.

You deserved better.



Robbie Danger

Bikes and trans rights. Posts about: climate justice, activism, politics