The car mindset

People who have cars get into the habit of using them. They are easy, convenient things, and just popping out to fetch something is so simple when you have one. I watched a fellow parent send her bloke out, by car, to a shop ten minutes up the road to get a packet of parsley sauce. The shortest journeys are the least efficient. I know plenty of parents who drive their kids to school, when the distances are entirely walkable. People with cars get used to thinking of the car as something it is fine to use.

People who design towns (and tend to have money) and people who decide where resources will be, tend also to think in terms of cars. Lots of people, due to age, poverty, infirmity or lack of inclination, do not own cars. Living in a culture which assumes you can and will drive places, makes this very hard. It is also unfair, pushing marginalised people further out to the edges. This particularly means younger folk, who cannot drive. If we build housing where there is no access to shops, or schools, give people a minimal or non-existent bus service and leave them to it, the results are not good.

In rural parts of the UK, it’s almost impossible to get by now without a car as the most basic of services have long since left the villages and are being pulled out of the small towns as well. Bus services in the countryside are thin and not very frequent.

Cars facilitate commuting, and people give insane amounts of their lives to driving about from one place to another. The time spent driving is time we never get back. Sitting in queues is a miserable business. They might profess to be convenient, but cars facilitate a way of living that takes far more away from us than it gives back.

This is not entirely a rant against car ownership. It’s a rant about the culture we build around cars, the centralisation of them in the way society is structured, the assumption that everyone can access them.

Being car-less is hard work. Buses do not run when you need them, or where you need them outside of cities. Feet will get you around, but how far can you walk? How much can you carry home from the shops when it all has to go on your shoulders?

For the majority of human history, we did not have cars, and life without them was entirely possible. Most people believe that cars give them freedom and independence. They cost a fortune to run. They are the most dangerous thing most people routinely tangle with. A lot of people die on the roads every year. They are noisy, and they belch out pollution. They currently run on oil and the oil will run out. Long term, they aren’t going to be viable.

It might be sensible to start looking for alternatives now, while we have the time to explore it, and start re-structuring our lives and communities so that car use is not at the heart of all ‘normal’ life.

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