Few things are as ubiquitous in the modern world as the automobile. It was invented in Germany by Karl Friedrich Benz in 1886, but was eventually popularized in America as an icon of independence, mobility and the power of industrial capitalism.
Having developed from a simple horseless carriage to the high-tech wonders of safety and speed, today cars serve as the primary mode of transport for millions of people all over the world. Unfortunately, there are many factors which influence transportation via car in some not-so-positive ways.
Probably the most commonly known factor is the amount of traffic within a particular area, and the availability of adequate roads to mitigate it. Often in older urban centers such as those found throughout Europe, the streets are very narrow, which makes larger vehicles problematic. This creates an impetus for smaller cars and for restrictions on the number of vehicles allowed within the city center. London, for example, has already banned private cars from entering certain areas and levies a hefty surcharge for anyone driving into the most crowded areas
Another important factor that gets a great deal of attention on the nightly news is the price of fuel. At certain times, due to economic factors and disruption in the supply of oil from various producing regions such as the Middle East, the price of gasoline and diesel can rise significantly. For many working families, this makes driving more expensive and forces them to think about alternate routes of transportation. Additionally, the overall supply of oil is finite and may have already reached peak production or will do so in the near future, making it possible that the car in its current form will not survive into the next century.
A more recent factor affecting car transport is the increasing awareness that large amounts of automobiles on the road contribute to pollution and even climate change. To help improve air quality, some areas such as California have instituted tough engine emission standards designed to cut down on smog. If further environmental degradation continues in the future, this may make the automobile a less and less desirable mode of transportation.
While there are many factors affecting the car in negative ways, there are some which promise great hope for the future. Safety has increased substantially, for example, over the last few decades, with antilock brakes, seat belts and airbags saving thousands of lives a year. Also, new technology such as hydrogen fuel cells or all-electric engines could allow the car to continue indefinitely without damaging the environment or running out of fuel. The only real limiting factor is the number of cars on the road and thus traffic. But perhaps with more efficient traffic control systems and double-decker highways, this too can be solved through innovation and optimism. Those two qualities, more than anything, are the very spirit and soul of the car.