Publication Detail

What California Gains from Reducing Car Dependence


Research Report

National Center for Sustainable Transportation

Suggested Citation:
Handy, Susan L. (2020) What California Gains from Reducing Car Dependence. Institute of Transportation Studies, University of California, Davis, Research Report UCD-ITS-RR-20-27

Cars provide an unparalleled level of mobility but have negative financial, public health, environmental, and social impacts. Reducing the need for driving in California would produce a range of household- and community-level benefits. Driving is associated with adverse health effects (e.g., obesity, high blood pressure, depression, injuries, fatalities), while commuting by walking or biking provides numerous physical and mental health benefits. A reduction in driving would also improve public health by decreasing air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. It would save substantial sums of money:  households spend about $9,000/year or 16% of their expenses on private vehicle ownership (2017 data) and the state spends over $500 million per year on highway maintenance. A less car-dependent society would also be more equitable for those with limited income or limited physical abilities who cannot drive, to the benefit not just of those individuals but the community as a whole. While it is not realistic in the foreseeable future for most Californians to live without their cars, it is possible to decrease car dependence. Doing so requires a shift away from a century-old prioritization of the goal of reducing vehicle delays over other important goals. Creating a less car-dependent world is not necessarily more costly to the public and can be achieved over time through changes in land use and transportation planning practices. Answers to many of the frequently asked questions about such efforts are provided.

Key words: Automobile travel, sustainable transportation, sustainable development, infill, automobile dependence