Drive-thru — services that allow people to order and collect food and drink without having to leave their car – are designed with convenience in mind. Whether it’s oppressively hot, uncomfortable cold, or we’re just in a hurry, drive-thru has become very appealing in an age characterized by a desire for immediacy.
In the UK, where there are around 2,000 drive-throughs, it’s not uncommon to see queues of vehicles with drivers waiting their turn to place, pay and collect their orders.
In fact, drive-thru is on an upward trajectory in the UK. -across sites in the year to March 2021: 50% jump on pre-Covid figures.
This service has become essential for many. Drive-thru services offer benefits to people with limited mobility as well as those with very busy schedules or people who argue with young children. In the United States, even some banks and pharmacies offer drive-thru options. And by helping customers avoid eating indoors, drive-thrus may also have helped limit the spread of Covid-19. But drive-ins come at a cost.
Firstly, drive-throughs require excessive idling, something that is banned on public roads in the UK but is regularly and casually done in drive-in queues. In addition to increasing emissions, wasting fuel and damaging engines, tailpipe emissions associated with idling create local air pollution with serious environmental and health consequences.
Poor air quality is already a widespread problem in the UK, where more than two-thirds of local authorities fail to meet air quality targets. Even if we were to meet these targets, the Royal College of Physicians has warned that only a fraction of the incidences of air quality-related illnesses – including lung cancer, asthma attacks and the overall drop in air quality life expectancy – would be avoided. Currently, air pollution causes 40,000 deaths a year in the UK, with annual costs to the NHS of over £20 billion ($27.2 billion).
In light of the ongoing transition to electric vehicles, environmental concerns related to idling will diminish. The UK’s plan to phase out sales of internal combustion engines will also reduce tailpipe emissions as 2050 approaches.
Yet even so, emissions from brake wear and tire wear are respectively responsible for 16-55% and 5-30% of non-exhaust related emissions in UK cities. This means that air pollution and its health effects will not be completely solved by switching to electric cars.
Drive-through: the end result
Cities around the world have begun to crack down on drive-thrus, despite renewed investment following the pandemic.
Parts of Canada and the United States have already banned or restricted new drive-thrus, while cities like Glasgow are starting to consider doing the same. As the UK attempts to reduce car ownership and use, drive-through services will also inevitably be discouraged.
Curbing the expansion of drive-thru will not seriously affect UK restaurant revenues, particularly given their relatively small market share considering that 70% of fast food sales in the US are made via drive-thru services. However, the negative implications of the “drive-thru culture” have deeper roots.
Car-centric transport planning has dominated urban development in the UK since World War II. It has increased congestion and contributed to public health issues such as the effects of poor air quality and the growing incidence of obesity while reducing the share of trips taken via more environmentally friendly options. environment such as public transport, cycling and walking.
Urban development that prioritises cars is also incompatible with the UK government’s goals of improving wellbeing, food systems and public health. Instead, building cities with wider sidewalks, separate bike lanes, and expanded public transit—where we can reduce our reliance on cars and fast food—represents the healthy urban future that experts suggest we should try to create.
And for those with mobility or childcare issues, the growth of smartphone apps enabling restaurant-to-car delivery outside of drive-thrus allows people to conveniently and safely pick up food without have to queue. Food delivery apps whose passengers use bicycles can also help reduce car trips while maintaining convenience.
As a society, we need to reflect on the profoundly negative effects of living in a society that has become so pressed for time that we cannot afford to get out of our cars to get food, let alone eat it. .
Fundamentally, drive-ins are symptomatic of a way of life we need to move away from – for the good of our planet. Limiting them to the UK would be a sign of progress not only for the environment but also for our society.
This article was originally published on The conversation by Eugene Mohareb at the University of Reading and Sybil Derrible at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Read it original article here.