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Five Car Culture Euphemisms We Need to Stop Using

Car dependency is a massive driver of some of America's most urgent challenges — even if we don't always recognize it. A big part of that has to do with the language we use to describe these crises, often without acknowledging the outsized role that automobility plays in creating them. Here are five common car culture euphemisms to look out for — and what to say instead.

1. **'Traffic accidents'**

The term "traffic accident" suggests that deadly collisions are merely the result of individual drivers' unintentional mistakes, rather than systemic failures of policy that can be addressed. This wording diminishes the role of automobiles in our roadway safety crisis. A study found that people exposed to the term "car accident" were more likely to blame pedestrians and less likely to support infrastructure improvements that could save lives.

**Say this instead**: Car crashes, automobile collisions.

2. **'Transportation' sector emissions**

Saying the "transportation" sector is America's leading source of greenhouse gases can misleadingly imply a variety of transportation modes, from cruises to private jets. However, ground transportation, particularly cars and trucks, is responsible for a staggering 80% of emissions in this sector. Vehicle electrification alone won't solve this issue.

**Say this instead**: Car and truck emissions.

3. **'Traffic,' 'Traffic jams,' and 'congestion'**

The word "traffic" should refer to the movement of people and vehicles, including bicycles and pedestrians. However, in a car-dominated society, it has come to mean cars and trucks packed on roadways. The term "congestion" is then addressed by building more lanes, which only encourages more driving and fails to solve the issue.

**Say this instead**: Backed-up cars.

4. **Transportation engineering jargon**

Terms like "level of service" and "forgiving design" are car-centric, focusing on minimizing delays for drivers and protecting vehicles, often at the expense of other road users' safety and comfort. The transportation engineering field needs to prioritize people over cars and use clearer language.

**Say this instead**: Ditch the jargon and use layman's terms.

5. **...and many more euphemisms**

Our language hides the negative impacts of car culture in numerous ways. "Road kill" is a term for animals killed by drivers, and "ocean microplastics" primarily come from car tires. "Parking" usually refers to the storage of private cars in public spaces, often displacing better uses of that space.

What's crucial is recognizing how car dependency shapes our thoughts, movements, legislation, and city design, even for those who do not drive. Naming car domination for what it is, is the first step toward dismantling it.

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