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Personal Essay: “The age of the car”

It’s time I come clean here. I am currently over 30 years old and I do not possess a driver’s license. I got my first permit to practice driving when I was 16, but driving with my parents only led to distress and anxiety, so eventually I refused to do it. It took a little more than 10 years before I dared to get another permit, this time because I was feeling the pressures of society that a woman in her late 20s should be able to drive a car, even though I live in a city with good public transport that takes me anywhere I might want to go on day-to-day basis. So where did that all that pressure come from?

If you watch most any car commercial, you see a person speeding along on roads, travelling far and wide, a symbol of freedom to go wherever you wish to go, as far as the content of your fuel tank lasts (that part has recently become a focus of some commercials). That desire for freedom, to be able to travel and explore has fueled mankind for hundreds of years, that very thing which drove man to search out every speck of this planet for some unexplored, hidden place. I get that feeling, I truly do. I just have a hard time applying it to my daily life. But then, I am plenty satisfied by just exploring the forested areas around my neighborhood or just walking the streets of my city for new shops and places I have yet to discover.

Still, I did make a gallant attempt at this driving thing, once I had the new permit in my hand. I took classes, when there were proper time slots available for someone who worked late into the afternoon and eventually I started driving with both my uncle and my mother as well, for extra practice. I drove on big roads and small roads, though the first time I went up on a highway I thought I would shit my pants, that’s how scared I was. Yet, the scariest places to drive were actually the smaller roads through cities, when I would have to keep track of a billion things, like pedestrians, other cars, where to turn, what is allowed, people on bikes, small children and a number of other things. All this affected me, on top of driving the actual car; handling the clutch and the manual gearbox. Perhaps it was this insecurity, which never really went away, that ultimately led to me failing my driver’s test not just once, but twice. I haven’t sat down in the driver’s seat of a car in almost two years now.

Yet, I would be a liar if I said I had developed a passionate hatred for cars at this point, which you almost might expect. There can be something almost soothing about being a passenger and watching the scenery speed by outside my window, as that famous thrill of exploring and seeing new things washes over me. The kind of things I never saw when I was driving, because I was too focused on the road and not crashing the car.

At work things have changed over the years and a driver’s license has become more and more mandatory, so I regularly am reminded of my deficiency in that area, the pressure from society has only grown over the years. Even so I stand more firm against it now, if I cave in again I know I would only try for that license because of that pressure and if my heart’s not fully in it, I know I will buckle under the pressure again. And driving lessons and all the exams to get the license are very expensive here. If I am to get a license it needs to be because I truly want it, for myself and nothing else. My job’s not all that great anyway…

Yet I must take a moment to reflect on the strangeness of this societal pressure, that we must all be motorized, when it’s clear that cars have contributed to the carbon dioxide emissions that are now slowly changing the climate of our planet for the worse. It’s true that cars have become cleaner and that there are hybrid alternatives now, but with a growing population on our planet that now has access to cars, cheap cars, cars that spew a lot of exhaust into the air, we’re still in a precarious position. Just look at the issues with smog they have in China, one of those growing economies.

And it certainly doesn’t help that there are so many places where you need a car to get anywhere, where cars have shaped the very cities and the infrastructure. I’m looking at you, the USA, I have seen first-hand some of your cities and towns, where there are barely any sidewalks, where the public transport is a joke and not at all convenient for people to need to get to work and school in a timely manner every day. I can completely understand why you make it easy for teenagers to obtain a license, why a person might get a car as a high school graduation present, because how else are they going to get anywhere in the world?

Even in my own country the driver’s license has become more important, in the fierce competition for jobs, if you have a driver’s license you automatically end up at the top of the pile of applications, even if the position itself does not specify that you need a license. You have proven you can go through a trial and succeed, kind of like how it’s a good thing to have any college degree on your resume.

Only time will tell if this will change anytime soon, but I don’t think the pressure to know how to drive will ever really go away, at least not during my life time. The car is too ingrained in our society and our way of thinking, even if every president and law maker right now decides to greatly expand public transport in every town and city in the world.

All I can hope for is that I won’t be too handicapped if I take the time I need to get that elusive license, that our society will not be too cruel to those of us who cannot legally drive a car right now. And that I will have friends and family that will let me come along for their road trips.

I do still like road trips.

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