“Is X the new smoking?” is a question we’ve all heard plenty of times in the last twelve years since the UK smoking ban came into effect. Tabloids and social media users, in particular like to apply it to anything judged to be excessively harmful to our health, which means ‘new smoking’ comparisons can range from being reasonably sensible to downright ludicrous – simply ‘sitting down for long periods’ being one notable example of the latter.
However, driving stands out amongst the reasonably sensible comparisons. Particulate matter and emissions are indeed harmful to our health, and with recent climate opinions changing, increasingly driving is any activity judged to be harmful to the health of those around us, too. So it’s easy to see why, according to research published by ethical car recycling company Scrap Car Network, as many as three in ten Britons are lying about their car driving habits.
Lots of that has been attributed to climate guilt, but like smokers, there are other common stigmas associated with driving, which might lead to the comparison. So what are those stigmas, and is there any truth to them?
Do drivers really hate cyclists?
It can be an easy conclusion to come to if you’ve ever spent any time traveling on two wheels, but it’s not necessarily accurate. Passing too closely, and other common bad driving habits can often be the result of simple misjudgments rather than deliberate carelessness.
In other words, many drivers who cyclists see as aggressive could just as easily be inexperienced, or normally competent drivers experiencing a lapse in judgment. It’s important to note that we’re not defending these aggressive driving behaviors at all – it’s just that the underlying causes aren’t always the same! (There’s even a suitable aphorism for this situation: Hanlon’s razor.)
Plus, it’s worth bearing in mind that lots of drivers are former or even current cyclists. Research says that experienced cyclists make better motorists – so not everyone will have it in for you if you’re on two wheels!
Owning a car makes you more inconsiderate
It’s difficult to not to be irritated by having to skirt round a vehicle parked straight onto the pavement or across two adjacent bays at the supermarket. And once you’re in a car, it’s easy to see how such behavior must become more tempting, especially since cars are more difficult to move (one way or another).
However, there’s no clear research that says simply owning a car makes you more inconsiderate, or encourages such behavior. Mainly, it’s just an outlet for it. In other words, – selfish people tend to be selfish whether they’re driving a car or not.
Besides, lots of people forget that cyclists can indeed park their bikes inconsiderately too, mostly by chaining their bikes to places they’re not supposed to be chained. It’s not as immediately noticeable for most people, but for those affected, it’s just as annoying!
Having a car can make you lazy
We’ll give you this one – when you’ve got your own personal motor, suddenly taking a walk to the shop for a few miles in the rain seems like less of a necessity and more of a perfectly avoidable bit of unpleasantness.
However, plenty of people would really struggle to live without their cars, with those in rural areas being prime examples. For many of them, the school run or the commute would be almost impossible. Not everyone’s cut out for walking a thirty-mile round trip each day (and that’s on the low end of the scale!).
Certain people with disabilities or life-limiting conditions would also struggle to adapt – for many of them, their car represents a form of freedom they might not otherwise have in their lives. And finally, of course, not all car owners are taken in by the siren song of that two-minute drive – which leads us onto…
Drivers don’t care about the environment
Actually, lots of drivers do, and increasingly so. It’s a fairly obvious myth when you think about it. After all, since it’s the most common form of personal transport available – and as we’ve just touched upon, for lots of people it might actually be the only one – it’s used by millions of people, and the climate change movement wouldn’t have nearly the global momentum it’s currently enjoying if it didn’t have the support of all those drivers across the world.
In fact, as evidenced by the increasing support for electric vehicles and other initiatives, there’s a growing number of drivers who’d love to become more environmentally friendly. (The question is what they’d be willing or able to sacrifice in order to do so, which is the current sticking point.)
Analysts believe Scrap Car Network’s own research supports this – three in ten of their respondents said that they’d been dishonest about their motoring habits. Of these, 73% of those drivers said that they lied about the number of journeys they made, while 63% didn’t tell the truth about their annual mileage. All of this may indicate the increasing level of guilt that many drivers have about their contribution to climate change.
So, while not all stigmas about drivers are true, it appears social pressure may well end up forcing them to change their ways. The question for climate scientists is: will enough of them change in time?