Speaker Greg Shill: “Americans Shouldn’t Have to Drive, but the Law Insists on It.”

“In America, the freedom of movement comes with an asterisk: the obligation to drive. This truism has been echoed by the U.S. Supreme Court, which has pronounced car ownership a ‘virtual necessity.’ The Court’s pronouncement is telling. Yes, in a sense, America is car-dependent by choice—but it is also car-dependent by law.”

So says Greg Shill, an associate professor at the University of Iowa College of Law who gave an online talk Thursday, May 14, as part of the Tomorrow Plan Speaker Series. Shill has extensively researched the myriad local, state and federal laws that make driving “the price of first-class citizenship,” detailing his findings in a law review article and a magazine article in The Atlantic titled “Americans Shouldn’t Have to Drive, but the Law Insists on It.”

“The range and depth of legal supports for driving is bewildering,” he writes in The Atlantic. “But these laws, which are everywhere we look, are also opportunities.”

Shill spoke not only about the many laws that provide incentive to driving, which range from local zoning ordinances to federal tax policy. He also highlighted several changes that policymakers could make, as well as actions that individuals can take, that would increase the safety of our streets, improve our quality of life, and enhance economic growth.

Much is at stake. As Shill points out, “Motor vehicles are now the leading killer of children and the top producer of greenhouse gases. They rack up trillions of dollars in direct and indirect costs annually, and the most vulnerable—the elderly, the poor, people of color, and people with disabilities—pay the steepest price.”

Like much of the country, the vast majority of movement in the Greater Des Moines area happens in a personal vehicle. According to the 2017 National Household Transportation Survey, 88.4 percent of trips taken in the Greater Des Moines metro area were taken in a car, SUV, van, or pickup truck.