Not Driving as an Act of Compassion

A pedestrian walkway in Long Beach, CA where no one is driving

A few times a year, I drive a car to get to meetings in the fare state of North Carolina.  Sadly, most of the time driving is the only way I can get to far-flung meeting places without  sacrificing 2.5 days of my life each time.

Because I drive so infrequently, when I do drive I find it wholly lacking in vitality.  A typical hour’s worth of driving is a blend of 50 minutes boredom + 10 minutes nervous tension—as when rolling down a landscape-less highway lulls you to sleep and suddenly a much larger truck cuts you off.

Compared to an hour spent walking or riding a bike—which place me in a sensory world of smells, breezes, radiating sunshine, overcast skies, birdsong, neighborly chatter and car exhaust—driving a car is one deprived experience.

By the looks of things, I bet lots of people feel this way: driving is a banal utilitarian operation; whereas walking and cycling and skateboarding and other means of self-conveyance grant us contact with our surround, placing us in a locale rather than on one—as is the case with driving.

This felt realization might be why fans of people-powered movement extol its sundry benefits.  For such movement:

improves your health

saves you money

clears your thinking

saves the environment

connects you to people and places

Another way to look at how we profit from walking and cycling—and by corollary, not driving—is to consider what we don’t do when we forgo driving, what we avoid when we steer clear of the powered steering wheel.  Really, it’s like examining a photograph’s negative— recognizing what’s there while focusing on what’s not there.

As so, I propose we attune to what we don’t do—or what we avoid—when we forgo driving a motor vehicle. When we travel outside of a motor vehicle we don’t:

contribute to the pumping of greenhouse gasses into our atmosphere

pollute the air all humans and non-humans breath

instigate the development and spread of various cancers through car exhaust

take the life of 30 thousand people each year—people who are simply trying to get around

disappear or degrade the habitat of birds, mammals, insects, humans

cause cities to overheat due to the need to store cars on soulless surface parking lots

pollute our waterways when it rains

make it easy for entire societies to gain excess weight through the promotion of sedentary lifestyles

suppress children’s—and adults’—desires to dart across the street to reach a favorite friend, flower, or feline

teach children that so-called “common” spaces, i.e., streets, are something to fear and avoid

interrupt conversation with the roar of hundreds of motors and the rumble of tires on pavement

I’m well aware that too many of us find ourselves in “must drive” circumstances and situations. As a culture, this reality is on us—and especially on traffic engineers and planners and policy-makers.

To those in power: allow us plebeians to express our natural compassion.  Help us create the places and culture that push us to experience life outside of cars.  It’s time we all wake up and recognize that human beings—not machines—must make a life here on earth.