The act of controlling and steering the movement of a vehicle
Driving’s great isn’t it? You walk out your front door and there it is – metallic blue, cd player, alloy wheels, sports exhaust; your pride and joy! Remote unlocking; get in, belt up, tunes on, a quick look at yourself in the mirror, and away you go. Yes sir, the car’s a great invention. Personal transportation, from your home to anywhere you want to go: To the office, the supermarket, a visit to your mothers, no, changed your mind, off to the cinema. A trip to the country, a trip to the ocean, day or night, rain or sun, ice or snow, the car gets you there, safely and securely. I’d like to see public transport do that!
The car’s cheaper, more flexible, and let’s face it, a great deal more comfortable. You can stop for a break when you want. You can take the scenic route. You can change the music whenever you like – try that on the bus or the train. No one’s squashed up beside you, no one you don’t know, you’re safe and secure, locks down, eyes face forward, only you to worry about. Oh, and the small matter of the other 2000 drivers you will have to interact with on your journey…
“Get out the way!”
“Are you blind?”
“What a driver! Where did you buy your licence from mate?”
“Yeah and you, you idiot!”
“Come on, come on. Can’t you tell I’m in a hurry!”
“I’m gonna be late, let’s move it!”
“It’s green it’s green, go on!”
… and other unsavoury comments and displays which usually require the driver to pull angry faces, use hand signals not found in the highway code book, and use as many sexual swear words as can be used in the time it takes for an old lady to pull right in front of you. Welcome to driving, 2006 style.
But for now, let’s go back to a more placid age, a time when courtesy and calmness ruled the roads. A time when huge lorries and vans didn’t hurtle past you at the speed of sound, and seventeen year old boys didn’t drag race their mums cars on the high street. A time when the maximum speed was a leisurely stroll, and the era of the sales rep hadn’t arrived. This was a time when people still walked to the shops, even when they owned a car.
Think back if you can, even if you weren’t alive, to a time when your parents or grandparents started driving. Visualise this scene for a moment if you will, your grandfather at the wheel, his leather driving gloves smartly on the gear stick, starting the engine ever so calmly, no six-speaker cd player ready to pump out the sounds… Signal, leave the house, a quiet drive, and he and your grandmother arrive at their destination all calm.
Hmmm something’s wrong, isn’t there?, it all went a little bit too smoothly for my liking. Let’s change the scenario to something a bit more modern.
Grandfather gets into the car, leather driving gloves on – he’s late already, shit! Starts the engine, turns on the music, signals, and leaves the house… Two minutes later he hits traffic. He cuts down a side road, it’s no better, he does a u-turn, he’s back where he started… Argh, it’s so frustrating. He gets onto the main road.
“Come on, come on, jesus, what the hell are you doing, get out the way,” he flashes his lights, drops down a gear and passes, making sure he signals the driver at fault with his middle finger. “Idiot!”
“Calm down dear,” says grandmother.
“What? it wasn’t my fault, did you see the way he was driving?”
Now. On to the motorway, accelerate, accelerate… nearly as fast as the trucks, but then one of them cuts him off. He decelerates sharply!
“Jesus, people are so bloody inconsiderate!”
The guy behind him beeps his horn, grandfather gives him the finger, accelerates again, and he’s on. He’s sweating now, his heart rates up, and he dances around from lane to lane, desperately trying to make up lost time. He glances over and grandmother’s flushed.
“What’s wrong with you?”
“Well your driving is a little erratic, slow down.”
“Slow down!? I’m only doing 50, we’re late already, do you want us to get there today? Jesus you’re always complaining.” After all that, he misses the exit. “See what you made me do?” he says.
Five more miles and he finally comes off, 360 degrees and back on the other side. He finally makes his exit, but he wasn’t prepared for traffic lights, every 200 metres a red. And another red, and another red.
“Jesus, why do they always phase these traffic lights wrong? There’s never a green when I come through here.”
Stop Start, Stop Start, and finally he turns into his destination. Exhausted. Hot and flustered Grandfather turns to grandmother as he gets out of the car, and says,
“I don’t want to stay long, I want to miss the traffic on the way back.”
That’s more like it!
So what’s the difference between the two scenarios? Well, obviously, in the second one, grandfather is a lot more stressed. There is a lot more traffic on the roads, and common courtesy seems to have given way to anger and abuse, resulting in himself and his passenger being highly strung before they even reach their destination.
People often report that their partners “change” when they get behind the wheel. There is even a new offence of “road rage,” and some people have actually been killed or beaten senseless by other drivers as a result of perceived bad driving! What’s going on? Driving should be a pleasant affair. We start at A, drive safely and considerately for our passengers and all other motorists, and arrive at B. But something makes the point between A and B a stressful affair for all involved. Let’s go into this carefully together shall we, because there’s more to motoring than just bad driving and stress.
Since the advent of mass motoring, cars have become a necessity for most people. In fact, we can’t live without them, as proved by the traffic jams all over the planet. Driving is no longer pleasurable; we don’t just use our cars on weekend trips to the country, we use them every minute of the day.
Drive the kids to school
Drive to work
Drive to a meeting
Drive to the shops
Drive to the restaurant
Drive to the airport
Drive to the bus station
Drive to the cinema
Drive to your girlfriends house
Drive to the coast
Drive to the country
Drive yourself MAD
Cars are an integral part of modern life. They are status symbols, as much as transportation devices. In the same way we buy bigger houses to reflect our career, so we buy cars. Who ever heard of a managing director driving around in a ten year old car?
We buy cars that look good; cars that reflect our personalities. You couldn’t imagine an outrageous rock star driving around in the same car your mother drives to do the shopping in, could you?
Young people who can’t afford sports cars, buy accessories like alloy wheels, rear spoilers and exhausts that wouldn’t look out of place on a formula one racing car! You hear their in-car entertainment systems before you see the car. It’s all about…
A personal facade that one presents to the world
A car lets people know your status in the world. It defines your personality. It allows people to know who they’re dealing with before they meet you. Whether you’re rich, wannabe rich, or poor. Whether your boring or fun; extrovert, introvert or a family man. Whether you’re a corporate man or an entrepreneur, going up the ranks, or never got started. Think about it.
If you’re stuck in a traffic jam, you look around. You look at people, you look at their cars, you try to imagine what sort of life they have, what sort of job they do – it’s natural.
We look at the man in the red ferrari, and wonder if he’s a media executive, in the film business, or if he’s famous. Generally, a director of a multinational company wouldn’t be seen dead in one of those. He’s looking for something that’s understated, but reflects the fact that he’s serious, and has made it in life – something altogether more regal. The mobile phone salesman is in a “sooped-up” shopping car. It’s loud, its paint job is louder, and reflects the fact that he himself is “loud.” The fast talker, ready to get you to sign up to that new two year contract in ten minutes flat. The scientist who is thinking about a scientific equation doesn’t care what people think about him, he is too busy in his own mind to worry about what car he is driving, although others will be judging him without his knowledge!
So let’s face it – cars are important! The environmentalists just don’t understand!
I want you to ask yourself now what car you would drive and why? What’s your job? Why is it important to have a specific style of car to reflect your image?
Young men like to have nice cars to impress the ladies. You can’t imagine picking up a an attractive woman in a battered old car, she wouldn’t be impressed. But pick her up in a sports car; now you’re talking! Cars are a reflection of your wallet size, your job, your credit rating, the house you live in. At least that’s what you want them to reflect. Some people have the nice car to give the impression they are wealthy, but that’s all it is, an impression.
What about the way you drive? What does that say about you? Are you a fast driver, a slow driver, a lane changer or a racing line specialist? First off the lights or last? For some drivers, especially young males, full of testosterone, driving a car is not about getting from A to B but as a means of showing off their masculinity to their peers, and of course, impressionable young females (the same as showing off your muscles in a gym). You want to impress.
You have no driving skills, but you want to prove you are as fast as the formula one world champion; that you can corner harder than the best rally drivers – even on a country road with two way traffic. The faster you drive, the more excited you are, the more your peers egg you on, the faster you go. The faster you go the bigger your ego.
In your imagination you are the formula one world champion – you’ve played the computer game, now here’s the reality. Under your right foot, the ultimate display signal of masculinity. Raw power. The girls are impressed, your friends are impressed, you are the man! Until you hit a tree. Death is not as impressive. Yet young males still line up every day for the honour of driving faster and harder than any one else, no matter what the cost.
The ferrari driver, on the other hand, is not so concerned about driving fast. You see, he is driving one of the most powerful cars on the planet, but he’s not interested in that. If he was going fast you wouldn’t be able to look at him, and that’s what he wants. He wants you to look at the style of his car and listen to the raw power; after all, he spent an awful lot of money on it, and to drive it fast would be a waste (especially as the top speed is nearly two and a half times the speed limit).
This is a car to drive slowly, like a big cat on the prowl for prey. You want them to admire you – look how well you’ve done, look at the money you must have – and you pretend not to notice everyone staring.
To be fair, some people don’t care about cars, they’re just a method for getting themselves from A to B, and two types of people fit into this category: (a) The man who is comfortable with himself and doesn’t need a car to show off to the world. Happy with who he is and what he’s got, and (b) the man who knows he will never be able to afford a nice car and is resigned to driving his old car.
So now we have covered the car drivers status (the relative position or standing of the driver in society, his job, his wealth) and his image (the personal façade that he presents to the world:(whether he’s fun, serious, fashionable, available, loud, introvert), let’s look at other factors influencing driving.
Most of us don’t live close to where we work anymore; we have to find someone willing to pay for our skills, and for that, we normally have to commute some distance. Many towns don’t have a reliable public transport network, and those that do, are usually overcrowded and expensive (it should be noted that most new suburban living schemes are designed wholly around the fact that people are car drivers). The other factor being that new companies are often building their offices in areas only easily accessed by car.
Having to commute normally only means one thing, getting up early, and coming home late. This can be annoying for a single person, but for a couple with children this can start to cause a lot of stress between them. This happens whether using public transport or your car.
“I never see you before you leave, and you get home just as the children are going to bed.”
But let’s concentrate on the car driver. It’s midweek, he’s tired – too late to bed last night – he has to commute over one hour each way to work every day and his tolerance levels are down. He’s having a stressful week at work. His wife his putting pressure on him because he’s never at home. He’s annoyed that she doesn’t appreciate everything he’s doing to provide them with a nice home in the suburbs. He’s worrying about being late, as there’s a traffic jam and he’s got a meeting in fifteen minutes. He phones ahead to say he may be late, all the time cursing the queues, and then in the midst of all this, someone dares to pull out in front of him…
“What do you think you’re doing you bloody idiot, are you blind! Couldn’t you see me coming, it’s my right of way…”
His heart rate starts to rise, his blood pressure too. He feels more anxious, he starts worrying more about being late, he gets more frustrated, and the more frustrated he gets the more he starts to get angry about the stupidity of the driver who pulled out in front of him. So he starts his day off as he means to go on. Stressed.
His boss isn’t happy about something, and his wife calls him to say she wants him home early. He’s behind at work, but he leaves on time and sits again in the queue, desperately watching the clock, knowing what his wife will say if he’s late. He can’t be late, he’ll have to find another route. He twists and turns through side streets, gaining only seconds, dodging people crossing the road.
“Get out of the way, can’t you see I’m in a hurry?” He fiddles around, trying to find the phone, to say he may be late and fails to notice a car pulling out, he brakes sharply.
“Jesus, that was close!” “Idiot, idiot!” He bangs the steering wheel and flashes his lights, the other driver signals him with a rude finger sign, which infuriates him more. He beeps his horn, and if he could get hold of that driver he may just kill him! His heart rate is rising fast, he feels out of breath. He loosens his shirt, his palms are sweating slightly. He gets home, forty minutes late.
“Where have you been!” his wife screams. “Your dinner’s cold, and the children are in bed already. You’re so inconsiderate!”
So you have a shower, a glass of wine, and try to relax; you better get to bed early, you’ve got it all to do tomorrow, and the next day, and the next week, and the next month, and the next year. It’s a never ending cycle of stress.
Home stress becomes driving stress
Driving stress becomes work stress
Work stress becomes driving stress
Driving stress becomes home stress
It’s no wonder people need a drink!
So on the whole, I would say that commuting is not good for the health of our system, our families’ systems, and the systems of all the other commuters around you.
The man who pulled out in front of you wasn’t trying to make you angry or upset, and the people in the traffic jam weren’t trying to make you late. They were all just in their own stress cycles.
The car is one result of the way society is changing in its organisation; where we live, where we work, the jobs we do. No longer do we work together as a family or community unit, we now work for global corporations or larger businesses often many miles from where we live; often travelling by car all over the country on company business. Without the car, the way we organise our working lives today would be very different.
Let’s move on in our investigation, shall we? I want to talk about our grandparents. Few had cars when they were working, then again, the world was a very different place.
There was no need to move around; people generally lived close to their place of work – public transport would suffice.
If they wanted to go anywhere at the weekend, they were happy to take the bus or the train. Cars hadn’t been around long, and they were out of the price range of most people. Train suited the more leisurely pace of life.
Consumerism was a word in its infancy, so the need to earn vast sums of money was unnecessary.
They didn’t have as many possessions as we do today, but then again, their needs were much simpler. Shopping had not yet become a hobby, and they purchased their food from local stores: The butcher, the fishmonger and the greengrocer all sold local products.
Supermarkets hadn’t even been thought of, so there was no need to transport vast quantities of food around the globe. Fast forward to the present day.
Life is complicated in comparison, although we buy things to make our lives easier. The car is one of those things. A great invention, designed to help, and ends up causing as many problems as it solves – yet, unlike the bicycle, has become strangely addictive.
We can’t go anywhere without the car now. We make all sorts of excuses about how we would walk but “how would we get our shopping home?,” or we would take the bus, “but have you ever tried to take the bus with three children?” or, “I like the train, it’s just too expensive and inconvenient.”
All valid excuses, but how did your grandparents cope? How did they get their shopping home, or take their three children out? Now I hear a lot of you saying, “there’s no point in looking to the past, they had a much easier time back then, we have to embrace progress, and the car has improved out lives, no question about it.” But when we talk about improving our lives, do we not mean make them easier in much the same way that “supermarkets have improved our lives?”
I often wonder what the expression make life easier, means, and I have come to think that perhaps it means we don’t have to do as much physically, we don’t have to put in as much effort. Dare I say it? The car has made us lazy.
Disinclined to work or exertion
“But I work hard, I have a very busy life, I’m certainly not lazy.”
What I would like to discuss with you is that we use our car for everything now.
Imagine if you didn’t have a car. What would you do? It would be awful for the first month. Not being able to get fifty bags of shopping. Having to walk the children to school. Having to walk to public transport to catch your bus/train to work. Having to plan your days out around public transport – how inconvenient! Not being able to go places on a whim, getting wet if it’s raining, getting cold feet and hands in the winter – how terrible; but I think we would soon get over it.
Not having a car starts to put us back in touch with reality. The reality of the society we are creating around us, one which is only possible due to the convenience of the car.
When you walk, you start to reconnect with the environment around you. You see people, you look at buildings, at trees, you notice things you hadn’t noticed before. The air is fresh (or if you live in a city you start to notice the pollution that the car drivers are spewing out of their exhausts), you get more exercise, and if you’re late, you get more exercise by walking faster (but this kind of rushing stress works its way out of the body through vigorous exercise).
Man is not supposed to be enclosed in a bubble all day, we are an outdoor species.
You start to make different choices about employment, so you don’t have to commute so far to work. You can think about things you need to deal with during your day. You can talk on the phone without fear of crashing. You start to notice more people on the streets. Not having a car fills the streets with people again. You learn that we have to live with everyone, we can’t just shut ourselves away from the world by putting our locks down. You learn what it is to be a pedestrian and fight to cross the road, thereby angering some car driver who is in a rush. You will notice how stressed the car drivers are in the city.
You will feel calmer
In the first sentence I mentioned that the car was a great invention, and indeed it is. It allows us to make choices that were not possible by past generations, but it has also lead to us locking ourselves away from the rest of society.
Unlock the doors of the house, unlock the car, drive, locks down, back to the house, lock the car, lock ourselves in the house.
People always tell you what a dangerous place the world is, but the more we shut ourselves away from it, the more it becomes us against them, the constant fear that something bad will happen to you if you are out on the streets. But when the people get back onto the streets, the fear starts diminishing.
In some countries and cities, you never see anyone walking, you would be considered mad – just asking to be robbed – but if all the car drivers get out the car, and start walking, we reclaim the streets from gangs, and people intent on doing us harm. When people start cooperating together, they are a powerful force.
I still think there’s a place in the world for the car when we manage to make it run on clean fuel, or solar, or battery cells, but the problem with the car is not really about it harming the environment (although that is a consideration), it’s about us as a society; how we are using the car to change our lives. How we use it as a status symbol. How we are using it as a projection for our image, our personality. How we have become angrier and more stressed since acquiring it. How we have lost contact with other people. How we cocoon ourselves; and mostly, how afraid we have become of losing it.
Environmentalists will tell you to get out of your car because you’re “harming the environment,” but you don’t want to hear that, it’s your choice if you want to drive, and you’re right, it is. But I would like you think outside of greenhouse gases, and petrol fumes.
Fear of loss is a powerful emotion and humans have a great ability to want to hang onto something once they’ve got it, whether it’s good or bad. “It’s mine, I worked for it and I’m going to keep it.” I would like you to think what you would be gaining by stopping using the car so much. Stop for a moment and consider it.
I notice how my life changes when I have a car. I jump in to go 200 metres to the shops. I get angry when people pull out in front of me. I am stressed because of traffic. I worry I may get a parking ticket, or my car is towed away in the city. I worry about the cost of insurance and car tax. I worry about the cost of servicing the car. I have to remember to take everything out in case someone smashes the window to steal from me – fuel costs and the environment are the least of my worries!
I’d love to give you some tips on driving, tell you to calm down, to relax while you’re driving, not to get angry at others mistakes, to think about car sharing so you’re not the only person in the car, to think about adopting or starting schemes that rent cars on an hour by hour basis for the community, or even think about buying a car with four friends (but you’d only fight over it).
I’d love to tell you you don’t need a car to show off to everyone, and that driving fast only leads to more stress. But then again, you are the most intelligent species on the planet, so you already know all this.
The car’s not to blame, it’s just four wheels, a piece of metal, and a few wires.
It’s how you think about it that matters.