The USA is often criticized for its views on pollution, especially air pollution. This heavily industrialized nation is undeniably a major contributor to harmful chemicals filling the air and cars are a major factor. The North American state has over 250 million passenger vehicles on the road (that’s more than China, despite the latter’s much larger population). However, America is populous; even if private ownership of automobiles was limited to just one vehicle per capita in the country, that would amount to 318 million cars. When it comes to per capita counts, in fact, the USA is surprisingly low on the car ownership list.
For example, according to data collated by the World Bank, both Germany and the UK have more passenger cars on the roads per 1,000 people than the US, with 531 and 454 vehicles, respectively. For the purposes of this particular list, “passenger cars” refers to vehicles designed to carry no more than nine people, and it does not include two-wheeled vehicles (so no motorcycles). The USA has been listed at 403 passenger car vehicles per 1,000 people, a figure that has waned since 2009 when there were 440 cars per 1,000 people. This puts the US in 33rd place (for the 2011 ranking), meaning some countries should look more closely at their own per capita vehicle-producing pollution.
Unsurprisingly, this list is also a snapshot of wealth: There are nine European and Australasian nations occupying the top 10 spots. Japan has more car owners than any other Asian nation, with 455 passenger cars per 1,000 people, whilst Suriname tops the African countries included in the survey with 236 passenger cars. These figures stand in stark contrast to the countries at the other end of the scale, such as the mountainous nation of Nepal and its four passenger cars per 1,000, or the sprawling populous state of Pakistan, home to over 196 million people, sharing 16 passenger cars per 1,000 inhabitants.
10. Lithuania: 565 passenger cars per 1,000 people
Lithuania is a small country of less than three million people in Northern Europe. Dotted with modern four-lane highways, the country boasts an up to date transport infrastructure that the locals have clearly taken to heart. Although the country does have four international airports, when the total area of Lithuania is only 25,000 square miles (10 times smaller than Texas) it makes more sense to drive between most locations than rely on air travel.
9. Malta: 595 passenger cars per 1,000 people
Malta is a tiny sun-kissed set of seven islands residing in the Mediterranean Sea. Like many entrants on this list, Malta is a very small nation, thus the reliance of long-distance domestic transport methods such as planes, trains and buses is not as heavy as in larger nations such as the US. However, with 595 passenger cars per 1,000 people and only 121 square miles to park in, there must be some serious races for parking spots on the main shopping streets of Valletta and Gozo.
8. New Zealand: 597 passenger cars per 1,000 people
Both New Zealand and Australia (559 passenger cars per 1,000 people) have high levels of car ownership. New Zealand is constantly regarded as one of the most beautiful nations on the planet, with its dramatic landscapes peppering both The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movie trilogies. Being within such easy access of some of the best views nature has to offer means that New Zealanders are quite fond of road trips.
7. Italy: 605 passenger cars per 1,000 people
It is hardly surprising to find a car-loving nation like Italy high on this list. Considering the country is home to names such as Maserati, Ferrari and Lamborghini then owning one of these exclusive brands is a must for the more affluent amongst the Italian population. Italy is also home to the massive Fiat Group, which made 83 billion Euros ($109 billion) in revenue for 2012, selling passengers cars at home and abroad.
6. Puerto Rico: 629 passenger cars per 1,000 people
Although this figure actually comes from World Bank data published in 2010, it is unlikely to have changed dramatically. The government of Puerto Rico has tried to improve methods of public transportation to try to combat the amount of vehicles that are cluttering the small island’s extensive network of highways. There is the reasonably new Tren Urbano rapid transit system, regular ferry services and hundreds of buses, but Puerto Ricans still like to travel around in their cars.
5. Iceland: 646 passenger cars per 1,000 people
Yet another small island occupies this list. Iceland has an area of 39,770 square miles, with the majority of the population living in an even smaller area (just 410 square miles) known as the Capital Region on the west coast. With no public railways, driving is the way to go, and The Ring Road of Iceland (Route 1) has become popular with drivers who like a challenge. It is possible to travel the circumference of the Arctic nation via this 828-mile long highway.
4. Luxembourg: 667 passenger cars per 1,000 people
Tiny wealthy nations dominate this list, and Luxembourg is no exception. Wedged between Germany, France and Belgium, this miniscule nation only controls 998.6 square miles of land (smaller than Rhode Island) and has a population of just over half a million. But this half a million are particularly well off, with a GDP per capita of $107,206, so there are plenty of luxury vehicles on the roads and highways of Luxembourg.
3. Monaco: 729 passenger cars per 1,000 people
The top four places in this particular list are taken by some of the world’s smallest nations populated by people enjoying some of the world’s highest GDP (nominal) per capita salaries. Cars are an obvious status symbol for many people, and these countries are also in possession of modernized road networks surrounded by beautiful country often bathed in the warmth of the Mediterranean sun. The populace of the Principality of Monaco, bordered by southern France, loves cars and driving so much that they even have the famous road race, the Monaco Grand Prix, every year.
2. Liechtenstein: 744 passenger cars per 1,000 people
Liechtenstein actually topped the World Bank’s most recent data (2011) for this category, but the 2010 figure for the state in first place was so high that it is unlikely to have dropped below the 744 stated for Liechtenstein. This microstate is in Central Europe, sandwiched by Switzerland and Austria. Thirty-seven thousand people live in its 61 square miles of territory, and although there are train stations, bus stations, heliports and airports, Liechtensteiners prefer to drive.
1. San Marino: 1,139 passenger cars per 1,000 people
This figure comes from 2010 but it’s not likely that it has dropped too much since then. You would be forgiven for not knowing the location of San Marino, as it is one of the smallest countries in the world at 24 square miles (about 10 times smaller than Chicago). This landlocked country is completely surrounded by northern Italy and has a population of 32,576. However, with the San Marino Superhighway only being 5.5 miles long you have to wonder if Sammarinese drivers simply drive up and down it repeatedly for a Sunday outing. It’s worth noting, of course, that very small populations can skew per capita reports, given the particularly small sample size.