What is it about the automobile, that marvellous invention, that makes drivers complete dicks?

Here’s the scenario (and hopefully it’s not too far out, lest I be accused of ‘inventing strawmen’). When you get into your car your sense of time changes. It’s not uncommon for people to drive an hour to work, and it’s not uncommon for people to drive five minutes away from their house to the supermarket. But, walking that distance is beyond the pale because “it’s miles away”.

This apparent compression of distance is what modern dormitory suburbs are all about. Distance is “reduced”, amenities like shopping are centralised and engorged (yes, deliberate use of that word), and cities sprawl. All this is the fault of the car.

What I’ve noticed since living without a car is that those distances pretty quickly spring back to normal. Like other parts of the world where cars aren’t the norm, (like… Africa?) my perception, and especially my consideration of distance has changed. These days doing something like heading out to the beach at Island Bay is practically an expedition. But people drive backwards and forwards all the time. They say, “Hell, it’s only 20mins away, right?”

Well, no. That trip to Island Bay is actually a fixed distance, and that time factor is entirely artificial. It increases or decreases dependent on your access to private and public transport.

And this is why drivers whinge whenever anything changes the time it takes them to get from A to B. They’ve built a house of cards on a form of travel that revolves around time, not distance. Changing the time it takes to achieve their aim, usually getting out of the car and walking the shortest possible distance to somewhere they’re just going to sit down again, usually makes them aggressive, and almost always frustrates them.

Now I know this because I have been a driver.

But what I don’t understand? How you can chose to drive any given time, over any given (fixed) distance, and get angry when you might have to wait 2 seconds for a pedestrian to cross the street? A pedestrian pushing a pram!


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