Copyright 2002 Linda Marcas - All Rights Reserved
A Few Rational Thoughts
Last week's headline stories involved cars, teen-agers, trouble, and tragedy in North Baltimore. I'd like to
extend my deepest sympathy to the families involved, and to make it clear that, by writing this article, I am not
trying to blame the victims. All of us who have survived our teen-age years have done similar things; the only
difference is, we were lucky enough to get away with them, and to live to tell the tale. This is just one of my "what
if things were different?" speculative rants.
I'm not old enough to remember the gasoline rationing of World War II, with stamps and booklets and
classifications and rules about who could buy gasoline and how much they could buy, and why. Due to the uneasy
situation in the Middle East, rumors and speculations about gasoline price hikes and shortages abound, and I might
still have the chance to see gasoline rationing first-hand. Americans have enjoyed cheaper gas prices than the rest
of the world for decades; we saw the U.S.A. in our Chevrolet, cruised for burgers, made out at the drive-in movie,
and in general treated our cars as an extension of our private space while the rest of the world made do mostly
with public mass transit.
What would happen if gasoline prices trippled overnight? Or if we had a severe shortage like we had in the
Seventies? Or both? Would there be economic collapse, rampant unemployment, rioting in the streets, blah, blah,
blah..........or merely an adjustment that would bring our "car culture" into line with that of the rest of the world?
Imagine if gasoline were a controlled substance, like cigarettes or alcohol. No one under twenty-one years of
age could purchase it, and anyone who was still in high school could not drive a car without a note from a parent,
detailing the purpose, destination, and timing of each trip. A family of four would no longer "need" to be a four-car
family shortly after everyone achieved driving age; the savings in insurance costs could be channelled into funds for
more school-based transportation.
Everyone would take the school bus to and from school; special shuttles would provide transportation to
sports practices and games. Fewer teens could hold jobs, because they'd need to find employment to which they
could walk, ride a bicycle, or take public transportation; they'd have more time to focus on their schoolwork, and
there would be more jobs available for adults. With a smaller pool of available employees, employers might even
start paying a living wage to attract workers.
With no one driving their own car to high school, no one would end up suspended from school and missing
graduation because their passenger brought a "potentially deadly" paint-ball gun to school. Truancy rates might
drop; why skip school if you have no way to get to the mall? And it's probably harder to bring assault weapons to
school if you have to sneak them past the bus driver. With no student parking lots or passes, no students sneaking
out to their cars for a smoke during lunch, an entire set of administrative difficulties would dissappear, making room
for newer ones.
It's a lot harder to hide a six-pack while you're walking or riding a bicycle than if you're in a car; restricting
gasoline sales would cut down on drunk driving deaths among teens, saving everyone a lot of grief. And here's a
radical thought: if we raised the driving age to twenty-one and lowered the drinking age to sixteen, kids would
experiment with alcohol before they learned to drive, instead of attempting to master both at once, as they do now.
Try to ride a bicycle after having a few beers, and you'll actually believe that alcohol affects your vision and
Another way to "ration" gasoline would be by raising its price to where few people could afford to use it
frivolously. Don't raise the prices for truckers or busses or business vehicles, just for private automobiles.
Sports-utility vehicles would dissappear from the roads, replaced by more fuel-efficient transportation.
Teen-agers, even with unlimited driving privileges, wouldn't be able to afford to drag race or cruise around and
around downtown, revving their motors and burning rubber. Malls and "destination" stores might suffer for lack of
business, but small-town businesses might thrive again, with customers who prefer to spend their money on goods
available nearby rather than on the gasoline needed to reach a mega-store twenty miles away. Public
transportation might come back to suburban areas, and towns like NB would be on the trolley line again.
We could price-ration gas in other ways; on a per-family basis, a certain number of gallons per month (based
on "necessary" driving, such as to work) would cost price "A", and any gallons beyond that would cost price "B",
which would be considerably higher. I think we used a system of stamps and permits during WWII gas rationing;
we could institute something similar today, with higher prices and/or less gasoline determined by a person's "need"
Based on my own observations of my step-kids, teen-agers suddenly lose the ability to walk further than a
block or to ride a bike at all as soon as they get a driver's license. It's not their fault; it's what they've learned from
the American car culture that they grew up in. We tend to regard driving as a right rather than as a privilege, as
always a necessity rather than as the luxury it often is. Meanwhile, teen-aged drivers account for a high proportion
of accident statistics, as any insurance agent can tell you. Some sort of gasoline rationing would inevitably
decrease the amount of frivolous driving that we, as a culture, indulge ourselves in, and the extra exercise we'd get
by walking or riding a bicycle might decrease our waistlines at the same time. It seems rational to me.