A couple of generations ago purchasing a second automobile for a family was the height of middle-class affluence. These days a suburban family is more likely to have two cars than one. And increasingly the three-car family is approaching the norm.
In Howard and Anne Arundel counties, for example, census studies show as many households have three cars as have one. In both counties the proportion of three-car families jumped roughly 50 percent in the '80s. In the Washington suburbs, the percentages are not as great but the absolute numbers are a lot higher.
Both metropolitan areas are grappling with the need to reduce air pollution from automobiles, to find the money -- not to mention the space -- for more highways and to limit the spread of asphalt parking lots. State highway planners warn of impending rush-hour gridlock on many arterial routes even with the spending of billions of dollars. Just the specter of adults driving to work solo scares them. If everyone in the family over 18 is going his or her way separately in an automobile, the fresh air and greenery of the suburbs will be but a pleasant memory.