The moment we get behind the wheel of a car, we become something different, a new form of life we are so familiar with it doesn't even register as strange on any level. Yet the cyborg we become when we are augmented by the car is no longer solely human, and is so distanced from the human as to possess an entirely different ethical perspective.
When we think of ethics in the context of cars we might be inclined to talk of the way one driver behaves towards another, or the moral dimensions of building these environmentally damaging devices. I don't wish to deny the relevance of these ethical scenarios, but what I am trying to draw attention to is subtler and more pervasive.
Imagine a visitor to your town from a remote hill tribe who has never seen a car before. What must they learn just to avoid injury or death? You must teach them to stay out of the way of the cars on the road, to cross only at designated areas on the major roads, and also that there's a risk of death for not behaving in these ways. How do they understand such instruction? Might it not seem to them that the car (or the driver of the car) has higher status and must be paid deference, and possibly also that the penalty for transgressing this custom is death?
We treat our strange dependence on motorised vehicles as natural because we have lived with it our whole lives and see the trade off between pedestrian and driver as symmetric: we are all drivers sometimes, pedestrians other times, and so this arrangement seems equitable. But this story obscures the way that the car driver is afforded additional powers and privileges that come at the expense of the pedestrian.
Ivan Illich made the point that the driver of the car is complicit in a theft of time from those around them. By blocking access on foot, humans must walk further to reach destinations; they must wait for permission to cross roads, and are flatly denied access to large tracts of land where cars rule supreme. The faster vehicles always have higher status - cars wait for trains, for instance. There is a hierarchy of traffic and the human possesses the lowest rung on the ladder. Illich made the point that motorised transport has a radical monopoly: there is no possibility of questioning its use, so communities become committed to infrastructures that make the car necessary. The car is not inherently essential – but the way we lay out our settlements makes the car unavoidable. This is the radical monopoly.
We thus live in cultures where despite our commitment to ideals of fairness and equality, we are neither fair nor equitable when the car encounters the human. The human is inherently lesser in this encounter, an inequity we stomach simply because we expect that soon our roles will be reversed. The individual committed to foot travel is a second class citizen, the person who cannot afford a car is a mere peasant next to the driver. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the United States where the pedestrian can be physically denied access to even adjacent plots of public land, and arrested for jaywalking if they cross between them on foot. If they do not have a license to drive a car on their person they can further be charged with vagrancy. The drivers license becomes an essential component in a person's status as a legitimate citizen, and the car a required cost of true citizenship since without one much of the nation is literally forbidden to them.
In the ethical gulf between the driver and the pedestrian, we value the cyborg above the human, and in the process place a high hidden cost on equal status, thus undermining any claim to equality. The driver is not equal to the pedestrian in our societies, but a lesser form of life who must obey the dictates of the wheeled cyborgs or risk disapproval, incarceration or even death. The cars are our masters, and our only choice is between collaboration and submission.