How Much Driving is Too Much?

How much driving is too much? How many hours, or how far is it safe to drive in one day? Though the true answer is extremely subjective, as some drivers can easily tolerate longer drives, while others are fatigued by the rigours of such trips, it is fair to assume objectively that most people drive too much – especially as they could be travelling in a more active and environmentally-friendly manner.

We are currently (pardon the atrocious pun) a rather driven society; as ever more people move into large cities and join the urban workforce, commute times are stretching due to poor and outdated roadways. Research shows that spending more than 2 hours on the road every day greatly influences to the driver’s health. An Australian study of nearly 40,000 people compared daily schedules and a handful of health factors and determined that, compared to non-drivers, those who spent 2 or more hours driving were nearly twice as likely to sleep poorly and over 75% more likely to be obese; regular drivers were also reported as over 40% more likely to rate their quality of life as poor and a third more likely to feel psychologically distressed; furthermore, they were more likely to smoke and to fall below the recommended level of weekly exercise.

It is clear that sitting continuously for hours at a time is bad for one’s health; additionally, such sedentary behaviour can be harmful to the brain as it can be less active after several hours at the wheel and given that the stress and fatigue can cause cognitive declines over time as we must constantly monitor our own vehicle and surroundings, but also be alert for hazards and obstacles in our path.

In addition to the physical stresses of sitting for long periods of time, and dealing with obstacles and other drivers, in our increasingly over-scheduled and hectic lives, we cannot afford idle time; and commute times are as good as wasted. Unless the driver is, as is far too common, multitasking at the wheel, leading to distracted drivers. Thankfully, many states are drafting laws to prevent distracted driving, such as the requirement for hands-free mobile phone use.

Another danger of excessive driving is from the harmful emissions and greenhouse gasses; while the latter impacts the environment and climate, the former can have a detrimental effect on the driver as well who is breathing in hundreds of gallons of pollution-laden air during their hour-long trips to and from their workplaces.

Alternative Modes of Transportation

In the face of a looming global oil crisis, and given the effects of fossil fuel consumption on the environment, it falls to us to change our ways and develop alternative modes of transportation. We can certainly look toward the future and the latest scientific developments for new transportation methods; however, we can also look to the past – many so-called archaic modes of transportation would be perfectly acceptable in current times.

Of course, the easiest course is to walk whenever possible, or to use any other mode of active transportation: jogging, cycling, in-line skating, skateboarding or even skiing and snowshoeing in more northerly areas. Public transportation is an excellent alternative to driving private vehicles and many cities offer bus, subway, or light-rail in addition to ride-shares and taxis.

As more and more people move into city centres, it behoves us to establish more efficient means of moving people through heavily populated areas while minimizing traffic congestion and environmental impact. While converting to hybrid or electric cars will reduce the negative effects on the planet, a multi-passenger approach would be best to reduce the strain on roadways and shorten commute times for all. In cities originally designed for horse-powered travel, or car travel, development is limited by the city footprint; therefore, the best way to add new commuter systems to an existing infrastructure is to either tunnel below the city – adding subway tunnels or – or, following the lead of many European and Asian countries, expand skyward: monorails can be used for short travel on loops, urban cable systems (aerial cable cars similar to a ski lift) can be installed in business sectors, and personal rapid transit tracks allow small automated vehicles or pods to transport passengers along a guideway. For longer trips, to replace short-hop commuter flights, forward thinkers such as Elon Musk are developed Hyperloop systems where commuters would travel in pods through a network of high-speed tubes for excursions between urban centres.

Additionally, we could revisit rail travel for long-distance travel as electrified railways could be powered solely by clean and renewable energy sources. Freight shipping could also be handled by rail, or by waterways – once again reducing fuel consumption and relying on existing infrastructure and technologies.

Whether we choose to update older technologies for the new millennium, or create entirely new modes of modern transportation, we are limited by little more than our imaginations; at the turn of the previous century, airplane travel was deemed an impossible dream, and now hundreds of passengers can travel thousands of miles in a matter of hours.

Can North America End Its Oil Addiction?

Experts in the field forecast that the Earth’s crude oil reserves will last approximately 50 years at the current rate of extraction. The bigger concern, at the moment, is the probable difficulty of obtaining that oil; once all the easily accessible reserves are exhausted, we will be reliant on shale oil or deep-water drilling rigs – which both have the potential to wreak havoc on the planet.

But if North Americans were to limit their oil use, we could conserve the remaining supply for necessities and help to save the environment by reducing harmful emissions as well as leaving oil pockets undisturbed. The question, of course, is whether Americans can give up their creature comforts: quite a few States still rely on oil heating systems in older, less energy-efficient homes; in certain outlying areas, oil is still used to generate electricity; some industries use oil for process heating; though by far the worst perpetrator is the travel industry – and even though a small portion is used up by the freight industry (whether by land, sea, or air), the lion’s share of American oil consumption is employed for personal transportation.

Most households own multiple vehicles – both recreational and traditional. We drive massive gas-guzzling trucks and SUVs, own classic cars or muscle cars, ATVs or motorcycles, and rarely carpool or use public transportation if we are of age to drive and can afford a vehicle. To North Americans, vehicles are more than a means of transportation – they are a status symbol, and a reflection of our personalities and success in life which means we want the biggest and the best. Unfortunately, though many luxury auto-makers like Porsche, Audi, Lexus, and Tesla are creating hybrid or electric cars and SUVs, there are no massive fuel-efficient SUVs or pickup trucks.

In order to end our oil addiction, we will have to change our consumer and image-focused mindset, trading in our high-consumption wheels for more environmentally-friendly alternatives such as electric cars, public transportation or even active transportation such as walking or cycling. We can further reduce our oil dependencies by making use of the vast network of railways already spread coast-to-coast for freight shipping and taking 18-wheelers out of circulation, which will have the additional advantage of reducing road damage caused by heavy trucks; and still more, if the railways were electrified, we could entirely eliminate the need for oil.

The possibilities exist and the strategies can be put into place to drastically reduce North American oil consumption and exploitation. The decisions are now in the hands of policymakers and consumers – do we care enough about the future of our planet to change our oil-reliant ways?

High Demands on Oil in North America

Given the multitude of uses for crude oil worldwide, in the transportation, industrial, commercial and residential sectors, it’s not surprising that we are using more petroleum products than ever before. What is also unsurprising is that the U.S.A tops all other countries – more than doubling second ranked China. In fact, North America’s largest three countries all appear in the worldwide top ten oil consuming nations; though our overall consumption has decreased slightly since it peaked in 2007, the United States, Canada and Mexico still have startlingly high rates of oil use.

Americans consume an average of approximately 20 million barrels of petroleum products daily, which is more than the European Union’s total usage of 15 million barrels per day. And while Canada ranked only 7th in 2018, at just over 2.2 million barrels per day, its per capita usage rate is quite high: in 2018, it was 64.4 barrels daily per 1000 people and ranked slightly ahead of the United States’ 61 barrels. Mexico ranked behind both with 2.075 million barrels per day overall and fell far behind their per capita amount with only 18 daily barrels per 1000 residents.

As per the U.S. Energy Information Administration, in 2017, 14 million barrels – or 71% of Americans’ total petroleum consumption – was used daily for transportation. The industrial sector was responsible for nearly a quarter of the total, with residential use accounting for 3%, the commercial sector for 2% and electrical power generation for just 1% of the overall consumption.

According to the National Energy Board of Canada, the transportation sector accounts for approximately two-thirds of Canada’s oil demands; this can be attributed to the sheer size of the nation, and long distances that people and goods must travel between cities, combined with the high number of vehicles in use. Next, the industrial sector is responsible for nearly 30% of the oil demand – for mining, manufacturing, and oil and gas extraction; the commercial and agricultural industries collectively account for a tenth of the demand, while usage in the residential sector, primarily for heating and electricity, consumes a mere 2% of the overall amount.

It is incumbent upon North Americans to set an example for the rest of the planet by reducing our oil consumption as much as possible, and given all the alternative energy sources under development, there is no time like the present.

Addicted to Oil Consumption

Americans are obsessed with oil! We drive. We fly. We farm. We heat our homes. The refined petroleum products we need are derived mainly from crude oil; they are also produced by processing natural gas; and though we can substitute or add renewable biofuels such as ethanol, the fact remains that, as per the U.S. Energy Information Administration, in 2017, Americans consumed nearly 20 million barrels of petroleum products per day!

Though the United States has the highest rate of oil consumption worldwide, Canada and Mexico both rank within the top ten as well. We are using more oil now that at any other point in history – even though it is an unrenewable resource and it is contributing to pollution and climate change. The average North American uses their car for everything: commuting to work, grocery shopping, going to the gym, or going out for the evening. Most families own multiple vehicles and choose to drive rather than use any other mode of transportation, even if it is a short distance and far more logical to walk.

We have become a society of lazy, greedy, consumers who – even though they know of perfectly viable alternatives – choose to continue endangering our planet because we’d prefer not to change our habits. In a society increasingly characterized by ill health and obesity, the irony of driving to the gym for a workout, then driving to a fast-food restaurant for oil-drenched French fries, burgers, or fried chicken, before driving to the grocery store to stock up on products delivered by massive, diesel-belching, 18-wheeled trucks, and returning home to crank up our oil furnaces is lost on most. Though renewable energy sources abound, and the U.S. and Canada should be leading the field in alternative energy use, we fall sadly behind and remain increasingly entrenched in our addiction to oil consumption. And the vicious cycle continues as health problems are exacerbated by the poor air quality in most major cities, requiring more people to drive rather than walking as they’re no longer healthy enough to do so.

We must hope that the next generations will break from the current trend, choosing cleaner – and more renewable – energy sources and deciding to walk or use other forms of active transportation; otherwise, even though we project running out of crude oil within the next 50 years, our planet may not be fit for habitation long before we’ve reached the end of the fossil fuel supply.