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The car-dependent society: A European perspective

Book review by  Carlos Carrasco Farré: The Car-Dependent Society: A European Perspective. Hans Jeekel. Ashgate. June 2013.

Cars are essential for many in modern Western societies. For example, the car mobility growth between 1995 and 2006 for Belgium was 12 per cent, for France 13 per cent, for Norway 19 per cent, for the United Kingdom 12 per cent and for Finland 24 per cent. This is a unique situation in history, but one that does not get much attention since car use is seen as just a normal part of our everyday lives. Despite knowing the grim environmental and safety risks that come with regular car use – transport worldwide is responsible for 14 per cent of the global CO2 emissions, with 76 per cent of these emissions coming from road transport – we continue to keep driving. In The Car-Dependent Society, Hans Jeekel (Eindhoven University of Technology) uses data from Western Europe to examine three key themes: frequent car use, car dependence, and the future of passenger car mobility in societies.

Jeekel paints a broad and comprehensive picture on frequent car use and on car dependence, its driving forces, its problems and its perspectives. The book not only covers the Dutch situation, but takes a broader perspective and analyses the picture in Germany, the UK, France, Switzerland, Flanders, Sweden and the Netherlands. The focus is placed on the social and cultural aspects of car mobility, making the book perfect for those not trained in statistics and more involved in sociological and cultural research. Jeekel works from a broad conceptual framework, bringing in all sorts of relevant literature: he introduces some relevant theories such as the mobilities approach of Urry, the time geography of Hagerstrand, and the commons approach of Ostrom.

The book is structured around four central concepts. The first one is car dependence and its different definitions. As Jeekel states, some authors define car dependence as synonymous with a high degree of car use. The point is that although the degree of car use is an important indicator, the author thinks it is an incomplete indicator: “dependence has a relationship to lacking alternative, or at least to the perception that alternatives are lacking”. In other words, car use is an indicator of the need for mobility, but not of dependence. The second aspect is the difference between the factual and the perceived car dependence both at personal and at societal level. The third concept is the driving forces behind frequent car use, such as the urban development that disperses activities over greater geographical areas. The final concept is risk society, based on the idea developed by Beck. Our societies are no longer suffering from primarily external risks such as disasters and diseases, but man-made risks are starting to dominate and these risks are “embedded” in the expanding patterns of modern life. Modern western risk societies are presented and the relationship between those characteristics and frequent car use are explored. To further explain these issues, figures and facts from a number of European countries are presented.

Read the full text of the review on LSE Review of books

Jacqueline Nivard

Jacqueline Nivard, Centre d'études sur la Chine moderne et contemporaine

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