You just can’t get away from the fact that using a car really is the most comfortable, fastest and convenient method of getting from A to B… Well, frankly, yes you can. It is true that for a lot of journeys you can’t beat a car, but the problem is that it is habit-forming so many people just get in the car for everything, without considering the possibility of using a more appropriate method of travel for the journey in question.

A car is really great for getting several people, or lots of luggage, around the place. If it’s just one person, or the journey’s short, then try to find an alternative. The problem with cars is that they use masses of fossil fuels and produce vast quantities of greenhouse gases and other poisons every time you switch the engine on and, given the number of people who use them all the time, they require that huge acreages of land are covered in concrete and tarmac.

Cars also make you lazy and unfit and that adds to the addiction. It’s all too easy to get to the state that any kind of physical activity becomes really difficult just because you have allowed yourself to rely too much on what has become your motorised wheelchair. Believe me, I’ve been down that route, topping the scales at 19½ stone at one time. It is also true that, having spent the money on the car, the insurance and the road tax, actually getting in it and driving is probably going to be less expensive, even for one person and taking into consideration the rising cost of petrol, than getting on a bus or train. Driving, like smoking, is an expensive and damaging habit that you really have to want to kick.

OK – so the big question is: “CAN I MANAGE WITHOUT A CAR?” And of course, lots of people will say “NO!!” because our public transport in this country is so dreadful. Let’s rephrase the question: HOW CAN I REDUCE THE AMOUNT OF ENVIRONMENTAL DAMAGE MY DRIVING DOES?

Here is a list of ways in which you can do just this:-

  • Drive less. If the journey is under 3 miles, cycle. If it’s under 1 mile, walk or cycle (of course, there is nothing to stop you covering much greater distances on foot or bike but if you are unfit, that will do to start with). If it’s longer and you are travelling alone, catch a train or a bus.
  • Do not buy a gas guzzler and if you’ve got one, sell it. There are far too many big 4 x 4 vehicles on our roads, driven by people who never need their “off-road” capability. Keep the engine capacity under 2 litres.
  • If you drive to work, share with as many colleagues as possible. If you drive a long way to work, get a job closer to home or move house.
  • If possible, get a car which has been designed to be less damaging, either a “hybrid” (e.g Toyota Prius, which has an electric motor for low speed use when the internal combustion engine is least efficient) or a car converted to use LPG (propane / butane mix – less polluting than petrol and loads cheaper). Peugeot make (or used to make) an electric car that you charge up by plugging into the mains. It’s very cheap to run but has a very limited range (about 50 miles) and not many places service them.
  • Drive at an even speed if possible. There’s no point in loads of acceleration followed by sharp braking as it just wastes fuel, wears out the car and increases frustration. This is especially important in 30 mph limits and areas where there are lots of traffic lights. Try driving at 20 mph in 30 mph zones. You will find that you spend a lot less time in queues and more time travelling and as soon as there is a queue you immediately catch up with the traffic. There are loads of advantages in this, for you and for everyone else. Accident statistics show that pedestrians struck at 20 mph have a 90% survival rate; at 30mph 50%; at 40 mph 10%. You waste less fuel and therefore produce less pollution – remember that when your car is idling, it is doing 0 mpg. You are putting much less stress on your engine, brakes and gearbox.
  • When on motorways or fast dual carriageways, leave plenty of space between you and the car in front, especially if the road is getting close to capacity at rush hour. This doesn’t just give you more time to react if there is an accident. It also allows you time to reduce your speed gently if there is one of those sudden unaccountable braking frenzies where everyone slows down but doesn’t quite stop, and the knock-on effect is felt for several miles down the motorway. These are probably due to the fact that the road is reaching its capacity – any given road can take many more cars at 40 mph than it can at 70 mph. If the road is so crowded that it can only support 40 mph, then why drive half the time at 70 and the other half at 10? Just slow down to 40 and everything should even out for everyone. These braking frenzies waste huge amounts of brake pad and fuel and often lead to accidents, causing further hold-ups. Leaving a gap and driving just a bit more slowly stops this effect and does a big favour for everyone behind you.
  • Always treat cyclists and pedestrians with respect. Ask yourself if you actually need to overtake that cyclist, especially in towns. The chances are you will be stopped by some lights soon and the cyclist will just overtake you again. You probably can’t average much more than 18 mph in a built-up area with traffic lights anyway so a cyclist doing 15 mph will cover every mile in 4 minutes compared to your 3 minutes 20 seconds. It just isn’t worth it, especially when he or you will turn off pretty soon!

Finally, there is plenty of evidence that we will soon hit “peak oil”, the point at which the Earth’s oil supplies can no longer keep up with the demand. Many experts think that will happen by 2015. We are already seeing the price of crude oil rising rapidly and in 10 years’ time it is quite likely that the cost of motoring will reduce the number of cars on our roads. See Energy Beyond Oil for more details on this.

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