Baby, You Can Drive My Car (Because I Won't)

My limited experience with operating a motor vehicle has for the most part been vicarious. I have been triumphant only at achieving a high score in Burnout—a videogame that urges you to intentionally crash as many pixelated Ferraris as possible. For me, the ripe age of sixteen would give me the green light to learn how to become a licenced lifeguard, rather than enjoy carefree rides in convertibles à la Teenage Dream. Canada’s near-perpetual winter, as it always does, limits the scope for such revelry anyway.

I have several tribulations about driving. One does not simply cruise along roads glazed with ice and mired in slush for one-third of the year.  Were I a road roamer, my indecisiveness and atrocious sense of direction would inevitably guarantee me a spot on Canada’s Worst Driver. Yes, my shortcomings as a motorist would make entertaining television for the show’s 3 million weekly viewers.

In reality, the Canadian government’s most recent data indicates that in 2009, a total of 172,883 injuries and 2209 deaths were caused by motor-vehicle-related collisions and accidents. Transport Canada even acknowledges that this bears a significant social cost of tens of billions of dollars in terms of lost productivity, emergency treatment, and rehabilitative medical care. For me, and for an increasing proportion of our generation, clambering to be among the first to learn how to parallel park no longer carries the prestige and glamour that it used to. The University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute discovers that Americans are expressing the same sentiment. It found that in 2008, the percentage of 17-year old Americans with driver’s licenses plummeted to 50%– one fifth less than what it was in 1983.  Similar to the US, countries fortified with strong transportation infrastructure within their cities such as Canada, Sweden, Norway, Japan, Germany, Britain, and South Korea are finding more and more people among younger demographic cohorts without licenses as well.

Maintaining 2800 lbs. of steel and cast iron is expensive in the context of skyrocketing fuel prices and back-breaking insurance premiums. Becoming a fully licensed driver can take several years, and a four-day course for new drivers can easily cost upwards of $1500. More than one billion of the world’s passenger cars drive thousands of kilometres per year and emit tons (and tonnes!) of greenhouse gases in the process. This portends serious, deleterious effects upon the environment through particulate pollution, acid deposition, and climate change.

As a university student residing in the core of a city that endorses an extensive public transportation network, which has in the past earned the status as “Outstanding Public Transportation System in North America”, I find it hard to justify the time and cost of learning how to drive in the immediate future.  Montreal’s bike culture is flourishing. The city boasts a popular and accessible bike-sharing program alongside several neat community bike collectives like McGill’s aptly-titled “The Flat”. Within Montreal there is even a company called Déménagement Myette that is available to provide affordable and solely bicycle-operated furniture-moving services for both short and long distances.

It is, however, important to acknowledge that pedestrian culture has its restrictions. Not knowing how to drive can be inconvenient and opportunity-limiting, especially when jobs such as those provided by Canada’s Federal Student Work Experience Program require a valid licence. A recent study led by the Brookings Institution proposes that more “walkable” and pedestrian-friendly communities are also often the most expensive to rent, which can disable less affluent members of society from accessing some of the benefits of urban facilities and services. These problems in part reflect society’s bias towards car-focused, unimodular transportation and are issues that policy makers are urged to address. Globally, manufacturers will produce 60 billion cars this year. The world and the environment can benefit from one less car and one more pedestrian on the road.

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