Musing on driving and independence

I’ve been doing some long-distance driving in the last couple of weeks (I’ve probably done 12 hours in the last week or so – mostly motorway but then slower bits finding places either end) . And something has kind of finally clicked for me – about 4 years after first getting my driver’s licence – driving is starting to become something I’m properly comfortable with and feel capable of, rather than a skill that I do have, but don’t practice nearly often enough (being eco-conscious and going driving just to practice being difficult things to reconcile).

(Learning to drive and then going away to University and driving very little for 3 years doesn’t help with becoming fully comfortable with driving.)

It’s made me start thinking about how driving is often associated with independence and agency, and with a coming of age. Yeah, it is liberating to realise that for pretty much the cost of the petrol, I can go places I wouldn’t otherwise be able to (and be warm and dry in the process – as opposed to sitting around on cold train stations, for example). Sure.

But driving isn’t a right, and it isn’t a requirement in life. I certainly wouldn’t want to see driving equated with liberation or independence – does that imply that if you can’t drive, you’re oppressed?

I think, for me, being able to drive has been most useful because it’s starting to change how I can do things for other people. I can take my sister to the supermarket or pick up family from the airport and things like that. It’s not about “before I had to depend on other people to do XYZ and now I can do it for myself”, if anything it’s slightly more “now I can help other people do XYZ”. I guess that’s partly because I’ve always lived in places with fairly decent public transport links (and with a reasonable number of places within walking distance), so I’ve usually been able to get places myself – sure, it might be a long and somewhat awkward journey (waiting for buses that don’t show up …) – but it’s possible.

… and because this post is supposed to contain some actual knowledge, here are a few facts:

  • if you Google “driving facts UK” you get LOADS of thinks about drinking and driving rather than just about driving …
  • The proportion of households in Great Britain with access to a car increased from 52 per cent to 75 per cent between 1971 and 2007. Over the same period, the proportion of households without access to a car almost halved, from 48 per cent to 25 per cent (source)
  • In 2007, 43 per cent of households in London did not own or have access to a car compared with 31 per cent in other built-up metropolitan areas and 10 per cent in rural areas (source same as above)
  • As of 2001: More men than women hold full car driving licences in Great Britain, 82 per cent compared with 60 per cent in 1999-2001. However, women have been catching up for a number of years. Between 1975-76 and 1999-2001, while the number of men holding a licence rose by nearly a third to 17.6 million, the number of women holding a licence more than doubled to 14.0 million (source)
  • the proportion of the youngest age groups holding licences has fallen over the last decade – 52 per cent of men aged 17-20 held a licence in 1989-91, compared with 41 per cent in 1999-2001 … Test pass rates were 47 per cent among men and 40 per cent among women in 2002/03, compared with 56 and 46 per cent, respectively, in 1992 (source same as above)
  • … and Women’s Hour on BBC Radio 4 is definitely the best soundtrack for motorway driving. Okay, maybe this isn’t a fact … maybe this is just me.

Do you drive? Did you find learning to drive to be a liberating experience? What do you like to listen to – if anything – whilst driving?

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4 Responses to Musing on driving and independence

  1. Tara says:

    Hey hon, very interesting article. For me, I found learning to drive was so much fun, and very liberating. Having moved from an area where public transport was (semi) fantastic, to an area where it was virtually non existent, getting my licence was a necessity. The freedom of being able to drive down the highway with the stereo blasting and good friends with me was fantastic. And being able to help my family out with transporting kids to and from school & various activities was and is something I enjoy doing. I love driving.

  2. Theo says:

    It’s interesting because I come from a non-car family in a rural area. It wasn’t unusual for me to go 6 months without getting in a car. OK, we were next to a mainline railway, but anything off the line of the railway was almost ‘here be dragons’ territory. Rural buses exist, but not very usefully (at best one per hour, at worst one per month, last bus to anywhere 4pm). I remember I went on a journey perpendicular to the railway when I was 14 and it took 4 hours to go 8 miles (a train and three buses). And then another 4 hours to come back again. These days I’d be much more willing to walk that sort of distance, though the terrain isn’t helpful (hilly, thickly wooded cut by narrow pavementless country roads with drivers doing 60+). My mother still finds it almost impossible to get to the next village.

    So when I got a car (for other reasons) it rather transformed how I viewed the world. Now these places 8 miles away are 15 mins away, not implausibly far. Though when I can’t use the car the distances become great again (eg any journey around Cambridge requiring more than one bus takes an hour, which makes the speed about walking pace. But at least the buses exist and are frequent). I don’t like driving, but the alternatives aren’t good.

  3. Tara! Hey! Thanks for stopping by :). I can definitely see why learning to drive can be a hugely important thing in an area with no transport … I also imagine that it’s a bit more fun if you’re in the middle of nowhere rather than learning somewhere like I did where there are so many cars parked up that lots of streets which are 2-way are really only wide enough for one car to get through at a time … lots of going very slowly and being paranoid about clipping wing mirrors for me!

    Theo – that’s interesting … thanks for sharing your experiences :). Were you living in a small village / largeish town / ? I kind of wish I could ride a bicycle, as I suspect that that would transform parts of how I see Cambridge. Some year I’ll have a month free in the summer when I can learn to ride a bike … or something. But yes, at least buses exist and are frequent – things could be much worse.

    Ideally I think I’d like to take public transport almost everywhere and only drive when going on holiday within the UK (so having lots of luggage etc) and things like that. But I understand that population densities aren’t such that there can be great public transport to everywhere, so that’s not quite going to happen.

  4. Man, talk about a great post! I?ve stumbled throughout your weblog a couple of Instances within the previous, but I generally forgot to bookmark it. But not once more! Thanks for posting the way in which you do, I truly appreciate seeing someone who really has a viewpoint and isn?t definitely just bringing again up crap like nearly all other writers today. Keep it up!

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