Monday 15 February 2010

Why I Do Not Drive

Lately, I have met several new people; some at parties, some business-wise. One thing these new acquaintances have in common: they all look at me in wide-eyed disbelief when the conversation turns to the topic of travel and I mention that I do not drive.
"You mean you don't have a car," is the usual first reaction. No, that is not what I mean. What I mean is that I do not have a driving license, never had one and - in all likelihood - never will have one.

Since this has come up quite a few times recently, I have started to wonder why I actually am so completely not bothered about cars in general and owning my own car in particular.

The total lack of interest may have something to do with the way I grew up.

Grandparents on both sides of the family never owned a car, and to my knowledge, neither of the four had ever learnt how to drive.
My mother took her driving test in the early 1960s, when traffic on the streets of our small town in South Germany was nowhere near what it became only two decades later; she gave up on driving when, after a short stint in the countryside, we returned to live in town.
For my father, driving was essential, as he used to work shifts at the printing press for the local newspaper, and there was no public transport by the time the night shift ended.
But, as I said, it was essential to get from A to B - not something you did for fun, and the money simply wasn't there to own a car just for fun, either.

When I was around 5 years old, my family moved to a small village near the French border, maybe 2 hours' drive from our original town.
People did not have two or three cars to each household back then; the village was mostly home to farmers who had a car and a tractor, plus bikes for everyone in the family.
The place was small enough for me to easily get anywhere I wanted to on my own two stubby little legs, and my tiny bike and my roller skates were not so much seen as means of transport but as ways to have fun (and the occasional accident when I became too daring - which was quite typical for me back then).

By the time I started school, we had already moved back to town. School was only a 5 minute walk from home; all the shops for our daily needs were in the same direction, and it was only on very rare occasions that one took the bus to the other end of town instead of walking there, or even the train to the next small town where some relatives lived.
We still had bikes, and used them often in the summer to get to the public swimming pool. I also still had my roller skates, and my best friend and I spent endless afternoons in working on our "figure skating" routines, imagining ourselves in the pretty costumes we had seen on telly, receiving flower bouquets from our admirers, and smiling beautifully into the cameras.

At 17, almost everybody in my class was taking driving lessons, paid for by generous parents or grandparents.
As much as our parents and grandparents loved us, neither I nor my sister were offered the amounts of money needed for those lessons, and we were too lazy (and too interested in clubbing and music) to try and find after-school jobs or other ways to raise the necessary funds; therefore, we both left school without even one single driving lesson under our belts.

Later, when I started to work at the library, once again I lived close enough to walk; it happened only on particularly awful stormy, cold and wet autumn nights that I took the bus home after work, and every time I hated to spend money on something I still deemed unnecessary in my mind.

Of course by then, several of my friends already had their own cars - and I don't deny that it was comfortable to stick to them for a night of clubbing; so much easier (and probably less dangerous) to go to Stuttgart and back by car than having to make sure you got the last train in and the first train out (which usually meant meeting my dad under the door, when he was leaving for work and I was just coming in to go to bed).

I got married at 22, and my husband had a car. This, for a brief period in my life, did open some new possibilities for holidays and other trips that had not been possible before, or at least not possible without a lot of planning. Soon, though, with the disintegrating of that marriage, the benefits of actually owning (in monetary terms) more of that car than he did, disappeared, and once again, I relied on my own two legs plus public transport for most of the distances I needed to cover.

My second marriage was to a man who, like myself, never had a driving license and never owned a car - two of a kind, it seemed.
We still had some very nice holidays together, got all our shopping done, were able to go to work and managed to keep many other appointments both for business and private purposes.

When I became a widow, many of my friends and acquaintances offered to help in whichever way they could; for some of them, that meant offering lifts or helping me with my groceries shopping and similar. Much as I appreciated all those offers (and still do), so far, they have largely not been necessary.

Yes, there are times when a car is most convenient; take last week, for instance.
I was meeting a friend at the aiport; their plane was cancelled and the next one delayed, so that we ended up meeting hours later than what was originally intended. Had I relied solely on public transport, I would have had to take the last train back, which would have meant to spend a mere two hours together - way too short for someone you meet less than once a year!
So, in that case, I was glad for the taxi taking me back home at a time when no trains were available. But generally, I do not feel I am missing out on anything for not being able to drive.

So far, I always got to where I wanted - and back.


  1. How wise of you!
    I would not own a car, were I not dependent on one for going places - grocery shopping not the least important.
    For the moment I'm stuck at home, waiting for some spare parts for the car. Hopefully they arrive today so I can go shopping before we perish!

  2. Thank you, em! I don't know if I am wise in not owning a car - I just know that it suits me that way; besides, I wouldn't know where to get the money from for all the fuel, taxes, insurance, maintenance and repairs that always seem to crop up for car owners :-)

  3. is the not driving a european thing.i have a friend who lives in austria and she doesn't drive either....

    i live 3 hours north of los angeles...those freeways are unbelieveable...makes me so nervous...bumper to bumper and going 80 mph.

    thanks for stopping by farmhouse

    good to see you

    your kitty is adorable :-)

  4. Kary, I wouldn't know whether it is a European thing; maybe we are, in general, better equipped with public transport than the vast areas of the US, places being much closer together and all that :-)
    But I know that in my circle of friends, acquaintances and colleagues, I am by and large the only one without a license.

  5. Ah, a kindred spirit! I don't drive either, despite living in the country. I was thinking about it only this morning - that if I didn't have a husband and son to drive me into town for shopping, I would probably just take taxis rather than learn to drive - I wouldn't want to go very often. I'm almost sure that some of the local taxi firms would be obliging about me taking the dogs into the vet and so on...if and when a change of circumstances occurs I may have to readdress the problem, of course. But I'm in no hurry. I hate driving.

  6. GeraniumCat, in the area where I live, the upkeep of a car is quite expensive - for the money people I know spend on their (not very flash) cars every month, I could afford a taxi every time I needed to get from A to B where public transport would not be convenient.

  7. I probably live in one of the worst cities for someone who doesn't like cars to live in. For a major city Perth has one of the lowest urban densities and one of the highest car ownership rates out there. Here they are pretty much a necessity.

    I was at a job interview the other week for doing night-fill at a local supermarket and of course the interviewer asked me whether I had my own transport. He didn't really even seem all that convinced when I tried telling him that I only lived like ten to fifteen minutes walk away.

    I'm tempted to get driving lessons and maybe get a scooter or something, but I don't know how much money and time that's going to take. It's somewhat double edged in that it would increase my employability but since I'm not employed I don't know that I have the resources available to do it.

    Personally I think that a city that is designed for cars is not one that's designed for people, and is nowhere near as efficient as a place that simply has a good public transport system. It just seems wasteful and dangerous to me.

  8. Warwick, I know what you mean about increasing your employability. It would help me, too, in that respect; most employers simply do not believe a person can easily (sometimes even easier) get from A to B without a car!

  9. It's funny how different life is there, as compared to the U.S. Though, I'd say that there are a few areas here that are also mostly public transport or primarily folks who walk to point A to B. New York City being one of them. Though, the way of life I've had, I've almost always depended on a car to get where I need to go. With the exception of Junior (middle) High School and High School where I was told I had to walk to school. I then lived in Northern New York, which by the way, is absolutely NOTHING like New York City, and lived about 5 miles from the schools. My mom brought me to school in our little Chevy Corsica when it was snowing or raining, otherwise, I was on my own. Now, I can't imagine it!! Don't get me wrong, I still like to go for walks, and runs, but if it's a case where I have to "be" somewhere, hop in the car I go! This may explain how the citizens of the U.S. have become so out of shape! ;)

  10. The thing is that cities have been around for over 10,000years and cars only for just around 100years; European cities have been around a lot longer than things like automobiles and road lobbies. So, if you wanted to re-design them around cars you'd have to move a lot more history around than you would in places like America and Australia.

    I'd say that the basic rule of thumb for day-to-day modes of travel is whether or not you can get where you want to go in just over half an hour or less. If you're doing much more than an hours worth of transport a day then you're probably using the wrong mode. Though of course you can read a book on a long bus ride...

    P.S. He's a .PDF that does a nice job of graphing the transport situation in different cities around the world:

    I find it quite interesting, but maybe that's just me...

  11. Oh yes, that is indeed interesting, Warwick, thank you! Of course I have checked out how Stuttgart stands in those graphs :-)