Terence Blacker: Why we're all being driven to extremes

Cars may be necessary to everyday life, but they are no longer a force for good

Share
Related Topics

Have you had a call from a personal travel adviser yet? In some parts of the country, they are knocking on doors and offering tips on responsible travel. It is a government initiative, financed by the Local Sustainable Transport Fund, and its aim is to encourage more of us to leave the car at home when we shop, or go to work.

The scheme has drawn a predictable blast of amused contempt from traditionalists in the media who have huffed and puffed about the nanny state, and the cost to the public purse. The Taxpayers' Alliance, an ever-reliable source of why-oh-why soundbites on these occasions, has described such campaigns as "silly... They don't address the real issues facing commuters or packed trains."

As is so often the case when there are attempts by central government to change the way we consume and waste, the criticism is wide of the mark and the idea, modest as it is, rather sensible. It recognises, albeit in a tentative manner, that worrying about the environment and investing in expensive renewable energy schemes are all very well, but are largely meaningless while we remain deeply and unapologetically in thrall to the car.

It is not just that unnecessary driving by millions of us every day is an obvious waste of fossil fuel. There is now something about the automobile which seems to bring brings out the worst in our natures. We are more arrogant and selfish when behind a steering-wheel; other people, beyond the screen, mean less to us than if we were among them. Enclosed in the solid interior of our car, with its familiar smell and seat position and sounds, we lose what little patience and empathy we ever had with the outside world. It is both a refuge and a fighting vehicle, taking on the enemy. When that car door slams behind us, the Big Society no longer exists.

It may take a while to get used to the idea that car culture is now somewhat toxic. It has had a good run, first as the focus of great rock songs from Chuck Berry, Ry Cooder or Bruce Springsteen, and as the star of Hollywood road movies. It has even, thanks to JG Ballard, had its moment of perverse eroticism.

Now, though, it is doing us harm. The briefest glance at an episode of Top Gear tells you more than enough about the grim effect on character and wit that modern car-addiction can have. It represents and excuses a sort of cosseted arrogance, a love of size and power, a bleary contempt for those with smaller engines or even, unthinkably, no engines at all.

Away from the TV studio, the way driving influences human behaviour is even less amusing, as Aberystwyth has been discovering this summer. Six weeks ago, the town lost its three traffic wardens. "We thought," the head of local highways told the Sunday Telegraph, "that at the very least this would be an interesting experiment, and there would be a good chance of the town showing what it could do."

It did. Unregulated, the drivers of Aberystwyth have ignored yellow lines, blocked entrances, grabbed spaces for the disabled, crashed into shops, abused those trying to make deliveries and fought with one another.

Here, not around some freeway in Los Angeles, is the true Carmageddon. In the words of the chairman of the local chamber of commerce, the town has been "spiralling towards a kind of Lord of the Flies state of anarchy where no one gives a stuff for anyone."

Perhaps it is time to start thinking about cars rather differently. They may be necessary to everyday life, but they are no longer a force for good. Door-to-door personal travel advisers can play a small role in changing attitudes, but in the end social pressure will be the thing. One day perhaps, the car culture will loosen its grip, and burning around the roads in a Clarksonesque manner will be considered self-indulgent and slightly silly.



www.terenceblacker.com

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Qualified Primary Teaching Assistant

£64 - £73 per day + Competitive rates based on experience : Randstad Education...

Primary KS2 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Primary NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Primary NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Piper Ryan Randall leads a pro-Scottish independence rally in the suburbs of Edinburgh  

i Editor's Letter: Britain survives, but change is afoot

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Some believe that David Cameron is to blame for allowing Alex Salmond a referendum  

Scottish referendum: So how about the English now being given a chance to split from England?

Mark Steel
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam