Driving Impairs Us

I have never had a driver’s license and I expect I never will. Due to financial, health, environmental and social concerns, I have chosen to never own a car and I have always been happy with that decision. I’m not alone; people are increasingly abandoning the illusion that cars are worth driving.

In “Driving has lost its cool for young Americans“, Lisa Hymas has pointed out a positive and growing movement away from driving among young people. She and others have explained it as primarily sparked by technology.

“American youth have fallen out of love with automobiles” because of the rising cost of driving and the fact that they are “living their lives online,” says Wall Street Journal auto columnist Dan Neil. No longer do teenagers need to drive to each others’ houses or the mall to stay in touch with friends; they do it online.
“I don’t think the car symbolizes freedom to Gen Y to the extent it did baby boomers, or to a lesser extent, Gen X-ers,” says Sheryl Connelly, Ford Motor Co.’s global trends and futuring manager. “Part of it is that there are a lot more toys out there competing for the hard-earned dollars of older teens and young adults.”

In 2008, just 31 percent of American 16-year-olds had their driver’s licenses, down from 46 percent in 1983, according to a new study in the journal Traffic Injury Prevention. The numbers were down for 18-year-olds too, from 80 percent in 1983 to 65 percent in 2008, and the percentage of twenty- and thirtysomethings with driver’s licenses fell as well. And even those with driver’s licenses are trying to drive less; a new survey by car-sharing company Zipcar found that more than half of drivers under the age of 44 are making efforts to reduce the time they spend packed like lemmings into shiny metal boxes.

In short, younger Americans are craving an existence with little or no time behind the wheel — and thus little or no opportunity for distracted driving. Unfortunately, our infrastructure and social systems are way behind the times.

As wonderful as it is that technology is liberating people and allowing us to connect with each other without needing to travel, there are other factors to consider in explaining the movement away from driving. It’s obvious that using cars is very harmful to society in a number of ways and the motivations to abandon driving are more broad than suggested in this article for those reasons.

The health sacrifice made when choosing to drive instead of walking or biking is tremendous and in a crisis of obesity that should not be ignored. For me, choosing to walk everywhere within my city is a major component of having an active lifestyle. Choosing to drive imposes a limit on the amount of time that can be spent being active and surely that is a major reason why so many of us do not wish to drive.

Environmental concerns do matter to many of us, and driving has long been an obviously harmful activity. Even with the emergence of electric and hybrid cars, there is still a lot of waste created by owning and driving a car. For those of us who wish to limit the harm we do to our world, not driving can become a clear moral imperative.

Financial crises and personal financial mindfulness have encouraged many of us to consider ways to reduce spending. Cars can consume huge proportions of our expenses when bought, used and maintained. That huge financial negative makes owning a car a crippling aspect of a life when monetary pressures are applied and the case for not owning a car is strengthened by the ability to have more flexibility.

Many cities have become limited by the number of cars that travel within them. While cities are ideal places to live for us humans, we often disrespect the opportunities they offer by driving. Cities are best when public transportation, bikes and foot traffic move through them without the burden of heavy traffic. In my own city, people have lost portions of their property as roads were widened to accommodate higher traffic volumes because civic leadership failed to take opportunities to shift toward public transportation. Reducing car traffic allows us to undertake smarter, life-enriching civic planning and create cities built around people rather than cars.

I can agree wholeheartedly with the quote from Clive Thompson in the article, “[W]e need to work urgently on making driving less necessary in the first place. Let’s get our hands off the wheel and onto the keypad — where they belong.” I do want the full range of benefits to be on our minds as we make one of the most valuable changes we can make as a society.

1 comment on “Driving Impairs Us

  1. I live in Canada and choose not to drive. Public transport where I live is awesome and so stress free. In the summer I ride a mountain bike and I am in the best shape I have ever been in.

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