Protect Horses - Drive a Car

How life without the car would literally be a pile of shit

Anti-car campaigners often go on about the level of carnage produced by road traffic. Apparently during the 20th century it has killed more people than the Second World War. Now, it is undoubtedly true that the level of road deaths is high and there is great scope for reducing it, particularly in Third World countries. But this argument assumes that, if there were no motor vehicles, then nothing would take their place, and the roads would be completely quiet and safe. However, there would still be a need to move people and goods around on the roads, and as society grew wealthier this demand would increase.

We would have to fall back on the mode of transport used before cars were invented, namely the horse. In London in the middle of the last century, fifteen thousand dead horses were cleared from the streets each year. There were more road deaths in the capital alone than there are now in the whole country. Horses can get startled and bolt, unlike cars (unless they are automatics driven by pensioners). And the huge amount of horse manure left in the streets was a serious health hazard, far worse than exhaust emissions are today. That's the unpalatable truth about what life would be like without motor vehicles - dangerous, brutal and dirty.

If cars had never been invented, or were banned, we might use trains and trams more, but they can only ever meet a small proportion of people's transport needs. For personal mobility, we would have to rely on horses to a much greater extent, with the inevitable potential for cruelty and overwork. Also, presumably, if we had no cars, we would have no delivery vans either, so huge numbers of carthorses would have to be put to work. Anyone who has read Anna Sewell's "Black Beauty" will know that the nineteenth-century version of "white van man" was not exactly renowned for his gentle treatment of horses.

Yet, strangely enough, the very people who are most concerned about animal welfare are often the same ones who bang on incessantly about the evil of cars. Surely one of the great unsung benefits of motor vehicles must be the liberation of horses from drudgery.

(November 2001)

Return to Index Page