All Those Cars

More cars than people. That's the word from the Department of Transportation, which has released a study showing that, since 1969, the vehicle population in the United States has grown six times faster than the human population. In 1969 the number of households with three or more cars was 4.6 percent; today it's 18.7 percent.

We probably don't need an official survey to tell us that there are lots of cars on the road and lots of them in people's driveways. As a spokesman for AAA told The New York Times, "If you believe what the auto manufacturers are telling us, there'll be a car in every household that can afford it, for every purpose. There will be a family sedan for hauling the family around, a 'sport ute' for climbing mountains, a sports car to go out and enjoy.... "

Yet, it's easy to forget that not every household can afford a car for every sort of activity. Not by a long shot. Neither can every person afford even one car - nor have much hope of owning one in the future.

But an excess of cars can serve a purpose beyond filling up a family's garage. Look at Brian Menzies, a used car salesman from Florida. Mr. Menzies has taken a leave of absence from his regular job to run Charity Cars. In the year since he started the program, he's given away 26 used cars to people getting off welfare. He receives no public money, and all of the cars are donated. Recipients have to agree to a strict set of standards or risk losing the vehicle.

And it's working. Florida officials, who say lack of transportation is the No. 1 obstacle for people on welfare, would like to see others start similar programs. Menzies says he thinks the auto industry should support the idea - "We could give away thousands of cars," he says.

Certainly, with more cars than people in this country, an idea that puts some of those vehicles to better use is well worth pursuing.

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