Doctors regularly see the adverse effects of private motor vehicles via patients injured in road traffic accidents. Despite the number of fatalities halving over the last 30 years due to random breath testing and improved road and vehicle design, Australia still recorded 1611 road crash deaths in 2007. (1) It has been predicted that by 2020 traffic accidents will be the third largest cause of global disability adjusted life years lost. (2)
Private transport has other adverse effects; exhaust emissions cause many diseases and the carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas responsible for climate change. Private transport discourages physical activity and there is a direct relationship between daily driving time and obesity (3). Obesity is a cause of type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Currently the transport sector contributes 14% of greenhouse gas emissions and is experiencing rapid expansion. (4) Car dependant cities also tend to sprawl and consume nearby fertile farm land, an increasing problem in a world becoming short of food.
Strategies that replace driving time with more active forms of transport will therefore have a dual benefit of improving the health of individuals and decreased environmental impacts. Harnessing people’s concern about climate change may provide additional motivation for this type of behaviour change. GPs could enquire about patients’ modes of commuting, particularly in those who claim to be too busy to exercise, and suggest active transport options that combine exercise and commuting needs in a time–efficient manner.
There are many reasons why our society is so car-dependent, including perceived convenience and security. However the negative aspects are usually ignored, particularly the health impacts. The most recent poster from Doctors for the Environment Australia, titled “Less Drive Time; More Alive Time” aims to set the record straight, and encourage leaving the car at home. This poster will be distributed with the December 2008 edition of Australian Family Physician, and you are encouraged to display it in your surgery waiting room.