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Is New Zealand a Nation of Car Addicts?

Recent research investigating New Zealand’s car culture has concluded that New Zealand has a serious addiction problem. Twenty times more costly than smoking.

The research conducted by Sensibel, human sentiment researchers, calculated that the external cost of cars to our economy at more than $20 Billion per year.

“When putting the model together, we were shocked. Across all measures, we took the most conservative estimates available” says Carl Pavletich Founder of Sensibel. “Our car culture is globally unique” he says, “we have the highest rate of car ownership in the world and very little exposure to alternative forms of mobility.''

The research aggregated all publicly accessible data relating to cars, including costs of building and maintaining infrastructure, health costs due to inactivity, the economic impact of lost productivity as well as carbon emissions.

One of the most concerning costs is the impact on health, in particular obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer. With a whopping 90% of our working population choosing to drive to work, it’s little surprise that this inactivity is leading to poor health outcomes. One in three New Zealand adults are classified as overweight, one of the highest rates in the developed world.

The average New Zealand commute is relatively short. Almost half of all New Zealanders drive less than 5km to work each day. At least 30 minutes of moderate exercise per day is needed to remain healthy. The equivalent of a 5km return trip by bike, or walk when catching a bus or train.

“Our daily car commute occupies the space that’s most convenient to exercise” says Pavletich, “this missed opportunity impacts our personal health and cost our economy over $6.5 Billion per year”.

So how can our over reliance on cars be classified as an addiction? “The definition of addiction is continued use despite adverse consequences” says Pavletich. “Like an addiction, our car culture is so embedded, so convenient and so compelling, we need far more persuasive means to enable mode shift” he says.

The research highlights our over dependence on cars and the investment that reinforces our national car culture. “When confronted with the economic, health and environmental facts, we need to start treating our dependence on cars like it’s an addiction” says Pavletich.

What if some of the current $20 billion was re-invested into helping us break the habit, we asked? “I think over a short period of time we would see a collective transformation occur, much more livable cities and a healthier happier, more sustainable New Zealand”, say Pavletich.


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