How To Live A Car-Free Existence

Green Prophet’s Arwa on her decision not to drive a car and the social stigma that comes with it…

Maybe it has something to do with my love of trains and car-induced travel sickness as a child, but I can honestly say I’ve never aspired to driving a car.

Hitting the open road or whizzing around the city in my very own car doesn’t really fill me with anything but dread. Although I think that choosing to drive is a personal decision, it does however seem to annoy lots of people. People who seem to think that you are a complete failure unless you can drive and own a car.

I am 24 years old now and I have come to terms with the fact that I will never drive my own car but my little sister (nothing like a little public humiliation here!) thinks ‘it’s a little embarrassing’ that I don’t drive. It’s an important skill, she reasons, one which would give me a lot more independence. She’s right about the personal independence it would give me as a young Muslim women but than I tell her what I always tell anyone who asks why I don’t drive- ‘Driving is not the future’.

Although people seems to think that driving a car is as natural as… well walking, the fact is that driving cars is a pretty new phenomena in the wider scale of things and everyone owning a car is an even newer trend.

How did we get here? Well it wasn’t a coincidence, we were guided here by a number of factors: advertising, rising income, growing consumerist culture and the crafty work of some car manufacturers and car insurance companies.

According to the No-Nonsense Guide to Climate Change by Danny Chivers (which I recently reviewed), back in the early 1900’s companies like General Motors and Firestone aggressively bought out public transport systems in the US and then shut them down. Over a hundred commuter rail systems were closed and thousands of kilometres of rail tracks were pulled up. In fact, the poor state of public transport seems to be a (rather short-sighted) motivation behind why most people resort to driving cars. As Chivers points out, “the US love affair with the motor car was really more of an arranged marriage.”

What’s more driving cars doesn’t work. Despite those epic adverts with cars sweeping across amazing landscapes and locations, most people hate driving and seems to spend more time stuck in traffic than actually getting anywhere fast. The more people drive the worse things will get- it just doesn’t make any sense.  A indicator of this is the fact that less 10 percent of the global population own a car- they are expensive, time-wasting and stressful machines and I guarantee that any journey would be improved by catching the train or bus where a person is paid for the stress of driving.

All this and I haven’t even got to the dangers of driving to our planet and ourselves. According to the latest figures from the World Health Organisation, more people will die from road accidents than AIDS in 2020. If that doesn’t shock you than the impact that cars have on global warming should. According to the World Resources Institute, motor vehicles currently emit over 900 million metric tonnes of CO2 every year- that’s more than 15 percent of global fossil fuel emissions. Time to go car-free!

: Image via [email protected] on Flickr.

For more on going car-free see:

Dubai Goes Car-Free For a Day!

Car Talk with the ‘Driving Dutchman’

Bike Sharing Down to a Science

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10 thoughts on “How To Live A Car-Free Existence”

  1. Re: “we’re constantly told we NEED things we don’t and I honestly don’t think we need cars” – if it truly was a *need* then how on earth did mankind survive for many thousands of years without them? It’s a *want*, one often considered to provide convenience, pleasure etc; fine, but still a *want*! Convincing ourselves it’s anything more is just trying to justify our indulgence (Prophet Muhammed PBUH didn’t have his era’s equivalent of permanent transport, but borrowed and shared – camel, horse, donkey – whatever was most appropriate for particular journey) 🙂 My 2p. In peace, Rianne

  2. We are all deviants. Let’s celebrate. Love your sum-up, Arwa.

  3. Arwa says:

    Thanks to everyone for sharing their views and experiences- it really fascinates me how people either got into driving as see it as natural or just never bother

    @rianne: people totally DO overestimate the freedom of driving. My little sister who does drive quickly stopped enjoying driving once she got her license and now see it as a'(necessary?) drain on her resources…

    @Jay: why not give it a try. Maybe for a day or so and once you get over the initial shock- you’ll really see the advantage of being able to relax on your way to work, get healthier and interact with people who would never normally cross your path.

    @Jen: totally agree- when I was at uni I’d spend my time on the train catching up with my friends/reading/sleep and it was well worth it! In this modern world, we’re constantly told we NEED things we don’t and I honestly don’t think we need cars so it was a natural decision.

    @Taf: We may have to miss out on certain things by not having a car but we totally get to see other things. I always say that the best way to know a city is by using it public transport 🙂

    @Karin: That’s the things about cars, the more there is of them the less sense they make- they get less convenient, more expensive etc…whilst public transport is great and I loved the trains in Israel. Amazing!

    @miriam: A woman after my own heart 🙂 I think sometimes people are just annoyed that we’re happier without a car even though they think we shouldn’t be.. less hassle, less responsibility, more cash to spend of things I actually want to spend them on… we have every reason to be happier without a car! 🙂

  4. Miriam says:

    I never did learn to drive, and at 56, I’m not likely to either. I understand what Arwa means about feeling like a social deviant of some kind because we don’t drive – I’ve had that kind of reaction from others myself. But life sans cars still looks good.

  5. I don’t own a car, but I do have access to my husband’s if I need one. I used to be crazy about driving, but now live in a country where you are crazy to drive, especially in the cities and with gas at about $2 a liter. Ride bikes, bus, walk, train and taxi.

  6. I absolutely love driving: drove across the United States many many times, sometimes alone, sometimes with others. But I don’t drive anymore. a) there’s the expense… I’m tired of being a slave to big business, b) there’s emissions – don’t want to be a part of that anymore, at least not a big part of it, and c) I kind of like that I have to think a little more carefully about how I’m going to get around. Does it restrict my range of motion – particularly in countries that don’t have public transportation? Absolutely. Am I OK with that? You betcha. I simply make the choice not to live where it’s necessary to have a car. In fact, I’m visiting such a place right now, so I’m taking a bicycle… maybe I’ll get some air in my lungs 🙂

  7. Jen Garr says:

    I applaud you for taking a stand against the “need” for a car!

    Though I do think that driving is an important skill to have tucked away, especially for a woman.

    We did the math at home and figured out that it’s about a 40% savings for me to take the train to work every day (price of gas vs train ticket prices). It’s 40 minutes of quality time each way for reading, working or sleeping – I won’t give that up too quickly!

  8. Jay B. says:

    Honestly I cannot imagine myself not to drive a car to work. Despite of that roads for bikes are quite safe I won’t recommend this kind of transport for my kids either. I like to use bike during the weekend when there is a time to relax and enjoy the free time. Maybe my habits will change soon; who knows?

  9. Well done! I don’t drive either. I did get my driving licence when I was 18 or so as it was part of ‘necessary life skills set’ and drove for a couple of years. In the Netherlands it’s much more normal not to have a car and not having one doesn’t have the stigma it does in the UK (where using public transport seems to be regularly considered a means of last resort). When living in Belgium I lost numerous hours getting lost or looking for a suitable parking space. I believe people overestimate the freedom a car gives (you’re tied to costs: mercy of petrol prices, MOT, road tax, car insurance, parking costs, car maintenance, car depreciation/ saving for a newer one; you have to make sure to know the road, find a parking space) and underestimate the freedom not having a car (or 2) gives (never need to know the way – just buy a train ticket & the train takes you there – no high fixed costs – many families now spend more on feeding their car than feeding their family! – and no need to remember to check the water, oil). Even taking a significant number of expensive taxi rides is still cheaper than a car. And with lower fixed costs means we don’t need to focus on getting a far-away job that pays lots to pay for the car. Interesting how we now on average live much further away from our work/ amenities than before, meaning the total time investment in getting there and back has barely changed… i.e. we don’t have more time for life with a faster means of transport.
    Do keep us posted on how you get on without a car! In peace, Rianne

  10. Meme Mine says:

    Climate Change Postmortem: “climate fatigue”

    When all was said and done, the following example sums up this level of mass insanity that we were dealing with, before climate change died when Obama dropped it from his State of the Union Speech:
    “A group of over 200 environmentalists were in an auditorium listening to a symposium about climate change, i.e. global warming or climate disruption. One of the speakers asked, “If I could instantly produce a genie with a magic wand to stand here before you today. And if, that genie could wave his magic wand and voila….carbon dioxide would no longer be a greenhouse gas that produced uncontrollable global warming….How many in this room would be happy, satisfied and pleased?” Two people out of two hundred hesitatingly raised their hands. Of the others, some smirked, some laughed and some yelled out, “No, no. Hell no.””
    Greenzism 2011? Almost!
    *Note: The Republican Majority voted to pull American IPCC funding on Feb20/11 and there are rumblings of federal charges being laid as a demonizing ploy for the neocons. Nice job boys!
    Meanwhile, the UN had allowed carbon trading to trump 3rd world fresh water relief, starvation rescue and 3rd world education for just over a quarter of a century of climate control instead of needed population control.
    REAL planet lovers are happy the crisis was averted.

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