Car Ownership

People, especially in the US, make a big deal about home ownership. In fact a large part of the current economic meltdown has its roots in the American craze for home ownership. Fannie and Freddie were created to help home loans become cheaper, then there was the CDO wave. Then came subprime. NINJA (no income no job amortized). All that. Boom. Bust. Jai.

A related concept that no one seems to talk about is car ownership. They say that the safety of a neighbourhood goes up if the proportion of owner-occupied homes goes up. And this is the underlying theory behind most of the home ownership craze.

|||ly, road safety is directly proportional to the proportion of owner-driven vehicles on the road. Take Bangalore for example. Till the late 90s, the traffic there was excellent and well-behaved. Some roads were already clogged, yes. But drivers were in general very well behaved. And the reason behind that was that most people owned their bikes and cars. They had a greater incentive to make sure that there was no damage done to their vehicles nad drove more carefully.

Yes, personal safety also plays an impact and is independent of whose vehicle the driver is driving, but I think in the progression of severity of accidents, vehicle safety gets compromised before personal safety. In other words, there is a one-way implication here – if you drive keeping in mind the aim of not damaging your vehicle, it is more likely that you are not going to get injured. The reverse doesn’t necessarily hold. And that is why car ownership is so important.

So what happened in Bangalore in the early 2000s when traffic suddenly became horrible? This thing called BPO happened, which brought with it the mostly chauffeur-driven taxis. Now, on one hand, these guys had perverse incentives as their efficiency was measured on the speed from which they got from point A to point B. Apart from this, most of them were not driving their own vehicles (this was a departure from the earlier wave of taxis and autos, most of which were owner-driven) and so they didn’t care so much about damaging their vehicles, which led them to drive more rashly.

Similar is the case with Delhi, which is known to have always had horrible traffic. Being the political capital, Delhi has always had a reasonably high proportion of chauffeur-driven cars. Which is why, for a long time, its roads have been known to be rasher than roads in other cities. And things still haven’t improved.

The thing with car ownership is that it forms a positive-feedback loop. Suppose the number of chauffeur-driven cars goes up. Then, the traffic in general becomes more rasher. And driving becomes more of a headache for you. Which increases your incentive to employ someone to drive your car. Which further pushes up the proportion of chauffeur-driven cars. This is what has happened in Delhi over the last 50 years. This is what has happened in Bangalore over the last 10 years.

In order to make our streets safer, we need to incentivize people to drive their own cars and bikes (one clarification – by own, I mean either your own or something that belongs to close family or friends; in both cases, incentive to keep vehicle safe is high). If I’m not wrong, people can claim tax exemption against the salaries they pay their driver. This needs to go first. Next, insurance companies need to have different levels of payout for self-driven and driver-driven accidents (I know this is going to be hard to be implement).

Yes, this might increase unemployment since driving other people’s vehicles is a major occupation nowadays. But is greater unemployment too high a price in order to ensure greater safety? (ok I can quickly think of one counterargument for this – if people become unemployed, the chances they’ll become goons rises, which makes society in general less safe)

Sit down behind the wheel, and be counted. Say no to drivers. Drive your own car. It is in your own, your car’s , other people’s and other people’s cars’ interest. You don’t need to be driven. You need to be in the driver’s seat.

9 thoughts on “Car Ownership”

  1. Interesting argument. What about the fact that the majority of new owners on Bangalore roads are young and tend to be atleast a wee bit more rash..

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    skimpy Reply:

    that’s there – if you are driving your father’s car you’ll be less careful than if you’re driving your car. but a driver driving your father’s car will be worse.

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  2. I think the average age of the driver in Blore has decreased. When I was young, my father would not let me ride his scooter saying I need to get a DL or at least an LL first. Now I see a lot of 14-15 year olds driving.

    Moreover, people from such places as UP, Delhi, Bombay where traffic was traditionally rasher as you claim have migrated to Blore, the traffic here has gotten rasher as well… They must have brouhgt their habits with them

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    skimpy Reply:

    i don’t think the proportion of immigrants is so much to have such an impact on the driving styles. i’d rather blame the cab drivers for it. and then there’s the increased traffic etc.

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  3. Sometimes i wonder why everytime someone talks of how bangalore has changed, the blame is conveniently shifted to the “outsiders”.

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    skimpy Reply:

    correlation. decline of bangalore has coincided with rapid influx of “outsiders”. most people don’t understand that correlation doesn’t imply causation.

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  4. Dude.
    Theory, on face of it, seems strong. But think there are one or two counterpoints to it.
    It’s in the interest of the chauffeur to keep the car he/she has been assigned safe. Especially for big rich/middle class family owned cars.
    Owner driving is, if I am not wrong, a recent phenomenon. Cars where originally driven by specialist drivers – I think it is a carry over from the coach/carriage days. Rich people (who were the only ones who could afford the vehicle) weren’t expected and wouldn’t do something as lowly as drive their own vehicles.
    The reason for rash driving on the part of the chauffeur person is as much a result of the incentive system (as you’ve mentioned – he had to get from A to B in the shortest time) as is a result of bad/insufficient roads. Correct me if I am wrong, but weren’t the roads in Suburban/outskirts Bangalore pretty bad compared to within the city? That was def the case in Chennai, and I posit, in most Indian cities. Most BPOs/IT companies set up their offices outside the main city (Whitefield in Bangalore. OMR/ECR/Sriperambudur in Chennai) where roads weren’t particularly broad, leading to accidents or traffic snarls.

    Additionally, your trucks, long distance buses, bullock carts and the like used to ply within and around the city, leading to additional gridlocks. I think it was around 2000 that Chennai banned lorry traffic within city limits between 6 AM and 8 PM.

    Ravikiran had written about solving the traffic problem earlier. Good, commutable roads from the city to the suburbs so the rich/middle class can move out leaving the poor to stay within the city and use local transport.

    (Rambling comment. Sorry)

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  5. I can’t understand one thing. Why would the safety concerns regarding a vehicle be affected if the vehicle a person owns is driven by himself or by a driver? The owner will be at a loss in case of an accident in both cases.

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