environment lifestyle simple living sustainability transport

Ten reasons to give up your car

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.


  1. Well said: That actually puts a lot of our thoughts into words, and adds a couple more I’d never thought of because we don’t know where the petrol stations are around here, let alone what they are charging.

    I really like the site by the way, it’s great to find someone else who shares our faith and our concerns about creation. Keep up the good work…

  2. When I lived in a city, I would have entirely agreed. Now I live in rural North Cornwall, there is absolutely no way I could manage without a car, especially with 2 small children. It would be lovely to have enough decent public transport to make it work, but down here (and in many other rural areas across the UK) it just doesn’t at the moment – which is a huge shame. I think it’s called ‘rural fuel poverty’ – not only does Cornwall have some of the lowest incomes in the country, we’re hugely dependent on running increasingly expensive cars because of inadequate public transport links…. hhhmmmm…..

    1. Yes, rural areas have it tougher, and I believe the government is looking at taxing petrol differently for those who live in the country. Not sure how that will work, but they’re thinking about it.

  3. I don’t exactly live a car-free life yet.
    But I’ve made it a personal goal to never accept a job that requires me to drive there (The office must be accessible via public transportation).
    I’ve been unemployed for about 3 months now, but things are looking up on the job-search front.

  4. Very salient points for not running a car, but not for not having a license; a some point driving a friend/relative/pregnant woman to the hospital might be the right thing to do.

    We have been car-free for 11 years now, and it’s very freeing on many levels.
    Love what you’re doing here.

    1. True, having a license would be great for renting a car for holidays or moving house, that sort of stuff. I often wonder if I ought to at least learn.

  5. Good point Leisl. I get a lot of those ‘what if’ questions. What if you need to do a lot of shopping or transport a big item of furniture? What if you want to get into the country? What if your wife is pregant and needs to get to the hospital?

    None of those things are a problem if you have friends, or a taxi company, or as Adam suggests above, you have a license and can rent a car or van when you need one.

  6. I wasn’t questioning what one would do in an emergency, just pointing out that none of the points above for not having and running a car preclude being more capable, more skilled, and more self-reliant by having a license; and at some point that license may come in handy.

    On a not entirely separate point — many people who think about the environment, our responsibilities to future generations, and responsibilities to the less fortunate (especially those who are less fortunate due to our very privileged western lifestyle) also tend to substitute the notion of making money with the notion of being more self-reliant; being independent and capable, rather than having to throw money at problems because you aren’t skilled enough to deal with it yourself. A license is just another string to that bow, perhaps?

    1. I agree, being able to drive does equip you to take care of yourself in certain situations. In my own experience, those occasions have been too few and far between to make it worthwhile, but that’s not going to be the case for everyone. Once I have a family, I’ll probably think differently.

  7. You should add in that it saves you a TON of money 🙂 But I suppose that is a no brainer point, but still a very good point to add.

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