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I’ve written before about the Cyclists of Dublin; well, once they get behind a wheel, it doesn’t get any better. We’re approaching a Bank Holiday long weekend, and so the police – sorry, Gardai – here are once again ramming home the Road Safety message. As ever, the young male drivers are the most obvious problem, with or without alcohol. The government’s behind this, so you can bet there will be no mention of the substandard roads, markings and signage.

I decided years ago that I will avoid learning to drive a car for as long as possible. I did try it a little, in South Africa, and I have toyed with the idea of getting a motorbike, which I haven’t forgotten but don’t feel in a hurry to pursue.

Why is this? Is it fear? I haven’t been in many accidents, none recently:

  • 1973, I think: my father rolled his Morris Minor on the road from Stirling to Dunfermline in Scotland. I was tossed about the rear and escaped with perhaps one bruise, but my sister got glass in her hands and scalp.
  • 1977: my father hit and killed a pedestrian in his Toyota, one of a drunken line stretched across the road late at night.
  • 1982: my father drove his Peugeot off the road and across a ditch, damaging the chassis, though still we took the car on a 600km journey the very next day, to pick up my new stepmother from the airport.
  • 1984: on the way back from a dinner to celebrate my sixteenth birthday, a taxi cut a corner and clipped the corner of my father’s Opel, bending the suspension and smashing a mag wheel. The taxi kept going, and we barely limped home.

The pattern should be fairly obvious. But I’ve never been injured in a car crash, and my worst accident ever involved just me, my bike, and a chain crossing my path. Far worse have been the accidents involving others, including:

  • David, from the pipe band I was in, though not at the same time: he was killed on the same road he had been seriously injured on a year earlier, and I was one of the pipers who played at his funeral;
  • Anthony, a year ahead of me in school, but a fellow geek who taught me a lot about computers and music: he went off the road, for unknown reasons, in Zimbabwe, and wasn’t found until it was too late;
  • Dawn, my adopted sister, who broke down on the highway between Pretoria and Johannesburg, and decided to wait in the car for safety. The car was hit by a large truck, and her injuries were too severe to survive.

Fear of accidents must be a factor, then. Expense is another, when I add up what it costs to buy, insure, and run a car. I prefer the idea of a motorbike because it takes up far less space and resources, and the environment is another factor in my decision.

The more I think of it, though, I have to note that I’m simply coping quite happily without a car, primarily because I plan my activities accordingly. The lack of a car affects where I go, and when. On the rare occasions (even here in Dublin) that public transport doesn’t meet my needs, I can get a taxi. A work colleague helped me move house last year, from a place with good public transport links, to a place close enough to work to walk. There’s a bus service to the airport that gets me there in time for a 06:30 flight.

The lifestyle suits me, but I’m also aware that cars have only been widely available since the 1920s. What did people do before that? Even with horses, they had to plan ahead. There were times when the availability of a car could have saved lives; how many more lives have cars cost? But please don’t confuse me for some neo-Luddite, who wants to change other people’s lives to suit my preferences. I just don’t need the convenience of a car, not at that price.

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Written by brian t

May 27, 2003 at 11:31 pm

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