Examining Local Car Cultures: What Can We Learn about Sustainable Transport?

Image of a magenta colored car tipped over on its side on its back wheel

About this research opportunity

American cities are dealing with a public health crises of traffic safety. Record numbers of people walking and biking are killed and injured in crashes. In response, cities are investing in street improvements and making other changes to aspects of local transport systems. At the same time, passenger vehicles and SUVs are growing in size, power and speed, which are strongly associated with the decrease in street safety. This research takes the position that cities have been focused on too few things with which they plan, and vehicle size, power and speed are viable objects of planning and regulation.

Regulating vehicles has largely been the purview of federal safety and transportation agencies. Yet, addressing vehicle characteristics directly is a critical aspect of traffic safety and is tied directly to existing efforts to improve safety, and quality of life, and improve walking and cycling conditions. Despite this need for policy interventions, there is little city and transport planning research that addresses these issues. What scholarship does exist provides valuable insight to the cultural importance of car cultures, but offers little guidance for how local laws and regulations may be used to improve the safety of streets.

In some cases, cities and local governments have acted as vehicle regulators through laws about sounds, height, speed limits, traffic lane sizes, aspects of vehicle design, and allowable uses of private vehicles. These cases of local regulations have been focused on regulating local car cultures. Examples of car cultures include the Chicano lowriders of Southern California on Black communities in Houston, street racing clubs in cities across the country, “Carolina Stance” lifted pick ups trucks in North Carolina, or camionetas in Los Angeles. Other examples include electric vehicle requirements in places like New York City, or golf car-oriented developments like Peach Tree City, Georgia or retirement communities in Florida or Arizona.

These examples show that local regulations can be effective tools for affecting vehicle size, shape and use. This research will examine the origins and legal justifications of local regulations, and analyze policy interventions that can improve traffic safety and support sustainability efforts. Particular attention will be paid to how racial and justice concerns influence the decisions to craft local policies, and how enforcement of such rules is undertaken and enforced. The expected results from this research will hopefully suggest a new vein of interdisciplinary research for city planners, traffic engineers, and public health professionals.

Students will work directly with the PI and each other, in small groups and individually, to collect data from public sources about local laws, enforcement and political issues associated with vehicle size and other characteristics. Students will study laws and local codes, traffic rules, policing practices, city council debates, and news articles to develop a deep understanding of selected car cultures. This is not intended to be a comprehensive analysis of all car cultures in the US. Rather, this will be a deep dive into factors associated with specific car cultures that will be identified by the PI and in collaboration with the students, who will be able to bring their lived knowledge and experience into the research process.

This is a paid research opportunity, but ASU Online students can opt for course credit if desired. The hiring deadline is May 22nd, 2023.


All ASU Online undergraduate students pursuing degree programs offered by The College of Liberal Arts & Sciences are eligible. Online students with interest in sustainable transport and local government are especially welcome.

Dr. David A. King
Course credit?
How to apply

Email Prof. David King directly david.a.king@asu.edu

Use OURS Summer 2023 in the subject line

Contact information

Prof. David King (david.a.king@asu.edu)

Additional program details

Number of students being recruited
Hours per week