Ghost cars

Walking home yesterday evening (rumbled – bikes aren’t my sole form of transport!) I passed the aftermath of a car crash.

A taxi was being lifted by crane off the largely destroyed concrete central partitio. The driver was crouched on the pavement [sidewalk], watching in wide-eyed silence the crane, the taxi and the tailbacks.

This got me to thinking about crashes in general. Why is it that bicycle crashes are often memorialised with a ghost bike which lasts for years after the event, whereas car crashes tend to spawn bouquets of flowers that disappear within a few weeks?

The first time I saw a photo of a ghost bike (I readily admit Yehuda Moon first introduced the concept to me), I was struck with a sense of… well, fear. It hammered home the fact that people can and do die while riding a bike. I love ghost bikes aesthetically, but they give me the willies. Seeing one in my town would probably go some way to persuading me take the bus more often.

How about hammering home the simple truth that people die in cars too? With ghost cars. Leaving a real stripped-down car at the roadside, painted white, where someone died in a car. Or in areas where space is at a premium, one side of the car. Would seeing one go some way to persuading people to drive more carefully or less often?

ghost car (taxi) mock-up

(rather amatur) ghost car mock-up


9 thoughts on “Ghost cars

  1. In the US it would clog the roads…which might actually be a good thing. In the USA around 41,000 people are killed every year in motor vehicle incidents. That is equivalent to crashing a small/medium sized commercial airliner every day of the year. You see massive investigations and finger pointing every time an airliner goes down. Where is the outrage on the carnage and destruction caused by careless drivers? Why do we spent billions to make cars and roads safer but won’t spend money on making drivers safer or providing alternatives to the automobile?


  2. I’ve been thinking a lot about ghost bikes lately. At first I was fully in support of them, but now I’m thinking like you – do we really need to make cycling seem more dangerous? Our streets could never fit the amount of ghost cars that would be needed to memorialize those deaths.

  3. I’ve only recently come to realise recently that there is a problem with Ghost Bikes – for cyclists they give us the willies and remind us to look over our shoulders, for the rest of the world they only serve to re-inforce the idea that cycling is dangerous, as oppose to something everyday and ordinary – when of course the killer in nearly all of these cases is not the bike, but the automobile. People don’t just fall off their bikes and die (generally), they’re hit by something – but how do we comemorate this in society? To me, ghost bikes say “A cyclist died here” – maybe it’s time to move on to something a bit more direct that says something along the lines of “A cyclist was murdered by an automobile driver here”

  4. @ Aaron / Dottie
    The great thing about cars is you can stack them quite high… 😉 I mentioned ‘one side of the car’. I had in mind a sheered-off façade. A car bonnet [hood] painted white or a white car door would have much the same effect, don’t you think?

    I agree of course. Every road death of any kind should ellicit loud calls for safer road layouts, slower speeds and more respectful driving.

  5. I have not thought about this before, but I totally agree. I think any part of the car painted white (maybe splattered red) would be enough. Every cycling advocacy meeting I go to I always stress how important it is to let everyone know how safe cycling is. Safety is the main reason people give for not riding and perception is reality. More people are killed by motorists crossing the street than riding a bike, yet nobody says “I am not crossing the street, that’s dangerous”

    I say . . . “Let’s have fun on a bike” . . . “I love my commute” . . . “Riding a bike is the best way to see a city”

    What do you say?

    • Love the ‘splattered red’ idea. Perhaps white for ‘someone was killed here in a car’ and red for ‘someone killed someone here with their car’?

      Of course more important for the vast majority of people than cycling actually being safe is it feeling safe. Hence the effect of ghost bikes and on the other hand segregated cycle lanes. (If you haven’t read David Hembrow’s piece on different types of safety yet, please see here.)

  6. Interesting – I never thought of ghost cars, and that ghost bikes may HURT the bicycle movement.

    When I was in Portland, Oregon, I saw small plastic horses tied to urban streets. The figure is tied to a ring that was used to park real horses. It’s meant to tell to a story about the Era of Horse Transportation.

    How about having small toy cars on the street to show the Era of the Automobile? It’s more positive and creative.

  7. fantastic idea!

    but cars (even bits of cars) are a bit impractical. So I suggest TIRES painted white, easily available and transportable (and chainable to a lampost) and small enough to be practical anywhere whilst big enough to be visible. let’s call them “ghost wheels” , one for every fatality on the roads – that’s 50 million ghost wheels a year.

    get to it, people

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