I recently found myself explaining to a friend why I don’t have a driving licence, and have no intention of getting one any time soon. I claimed I could give them ten good reasons not to drive. I was making the point rhetorically, but then I thought I should actually try it…
1. Climate change
Let’s start with the mother. Road transport accounts for around a quarter of the UK’s carbon emissions (pdf). There’s really no way around it, if we want to avoid changing rainfall patterns and rising sea levels, expanding deserts and angrier hurricanes, we need to get off fossil fuels. And right now, that means getting out of our cars.
2. Keep one step ahead of the oil price
After half a century of rising oil production it appears to have reached a maximum, but demand is higher than ever and rising. If we structure our lives so we don’t need a car now, it will save us being forced out of the market by the inevitable soaring prices that will follow. (If you’ve got an electric car, that might buy you a few years until the national grid starts to struggle under the increased demand, but it’s not a bona fide solution just yet.) Global oil reserves will be exhausted before the end of my lifetime. I figure I might as well learn to live without the stuff now.
3. Vote for peace
Though you can pin a war entirely on the need for oil, it has been a factor in a whole string of conflicts, from WWII onwards. The Gulf wars are the most obvious, the ongoing conflicts in Nigeria or Colombia less so. It remains a sticking point in the new Sudan. There has been an international campaign to stop conflict diamonds. Perhaps we’re all far too implicated to call for an end to conflict oil.
4. Support democracy
Oil revenues keep oppressive regimes fully stocked with weapons, from the military junta in Myanmar to the Saudi royal family. And as the case of Ken Saro Wiwa showed, governments will commit murder to keep the oil companies on side.
5. Reduce accidents
If you were to invent a technology that would kill or injure a quarter of a million people in the UK every year, it would never be licensed. Because cars are so commonplace, we forget that they are hugely dangerous machines. And the UK has some of the world’s safest roads. Globally, road traffic kills over a million people every year, and injures a further 30-50 million.
6. Clean air
One in seven British children suffers from asthma, one of the highest rates in the world. Car fumes are a major trigger of asthma as well as a likely cause. In fact, the World Health Organisation estimates that more people die worldwide from car fumes than from car crashes.
7. Clear the traffic
The more people drive, the worse it becomes for those already on the roads. Building roads doesn’t help. The well-established phenomenon of ‘induced demand’ means that new road schemes tend to actually increase traffic by 8-10%. The Department for Transport wrote a whole book about this in 1994, ‘Trunk roads and the generation of traffic’, which they appear to have subsequently ignored. At least you can read a book if you’re stuck in traffic on a bus.
8. Support local business
Small shops in town centres depend on passing pedestrians, but from the 1960s onwards there has been a move to create out-of-town supermarkets and retail parks. Britain has lost 30,000 independent grocery stores between 1995 and 2005 (pdf). I’ve got about three of them on my own street. If your high street is a ghost town of pound stores and charity shops, you know what car culture can do to town centres.
9. Build community
Research has shown a direct correlation between the amount of traffic on a street and the number of neighbours people know by name. The fewer cars there are, the more likely people are to spend time outside their front doors. (more here) If you want to get to know people in your area, walk.
10. Improve public health
Over half of European adults are overweight, and the UK has the highest levels of obesity in Europe at 24% of adults. Half of all our car journeys are for distances less than two miles. Can you spot the connection between these two facts?
I’m stopping at ten, but I haven’t mentioned saving money, or oil spills, or saving time – cars aren’t always the fastest way to get around. Living without a car has its challenges, although not as many as you might expect (there are such things as taxis, if you get stuck). There are tons of reasons to have a car, and for some it’s indispensable for their work. The arguments for and against are going to be different for each person, so I’m not going to be judging anyone for running a car. But for me, the reasons not to drive are pretty compelling.