The cult of the car

Some years ago I was involved in a heated argument with a man who was on a mobility scooter.

He had decided, as I later found out, that because he paid “road tax” for his vehicle, he had the right to pretty much do what he wanted, when he wanted. I was on a bike (for which I paid no “tax”, as he constantly reminded me) going along the road when he decided to leave the pavement and cross the road in front of me. In his world, this meant that I had to stop, because he paid “road tax” and I didn’t.

It’s an extreme case, and of course the majority of people would say that he still had a duty of care towards other road users. But I can’t help but feel that it reflects the attitude of a large number of road users, most of whom are private car owners, towards cyclists and pedestrians. In short – “I pay road tax, you don’t. Stuff you”. (Of course, there is no such thing as “road tax” and hasn’t been for years, but the uninformed still cling to it like a baby clings to his favourite “blankie”).

They clog the roads at least twice a day because they can’t be bothered to walk to work, or make the kids walk to school, or get the kids to catch the bus, or buy the kids bikes (too dangerous with all the cars on the roads) and they buy the right to throttle our streets and avenues by purchasing “road tax” and extortionately-priced petrol. And yet they want the rest of us to feel sorry for them at the same time.

Well, sorry, but I don’t. At all.

If you want your own little piece of space that you can take with you wherever you go, with nice padded seats and a CD player and a convenient place where you can put your litre of coke from the McDonalds “drive thru”, somewhere you can take refuge from all those horrible other people, perhaps something you can drive around the streets of your town as if you’re commanding a Tiger tank at the Battle of Monte Cassino, then you’re going to have to pay for that privilege. And if you can’t be bothered to walk to the shops, it’s going to cost you.

Yet the incessant whining of motorists about being “persecuted” is becoming an almost daily staple.

One of the first things you to tend to notice about genuinely “persecuted” people is that they tend not to be driving £35,000 Chelsea tractors or removing bits of pedestrian from their wheel arches. They tend not to have the ear of governments in quite the way that the RAC, the AA, or The Alliance of British Drivers do. (Incidentally, the website of The Alliance of British Drivers describes Britain’s motorists as “beleaguered” and portrays them as “cash cows”. Maybe the first description explains why so many motorists drive like they’ve spent twelve hours in the pub? Maybe the second description could be fixed by, er, slowing down and not breaking speed limits? Just a thought).

This persecution complex is pathetic.

As a drinker I am all-too-aware of the price of a pint, and how much of that price is tax. My response to the increasing price of a pint is to…wait for it…drink less beer! Yep, I’ve come to the staggering conclusion that drinking less beer means I won’t spend as much on beer. I’m not whinging about being “persecuted”, because drinking beer is not a “right”, drinking beer is not something that I absolutely must do (unlike drink water or breathe oxygen or stay warm and dry) and drinking beer is something over which I have the ultimate say. I don’t complain about being a “cash cow”, I don’t join organisations which tell me I’m being “exploited”, and when I do drink beer I observe the rules of the pub and I try not to spill my beer, experience having taught me that spilling beer is a costly business.

Car drivers keep on driving, here, there and everywhere. They whinge about being “persecuted” then they park on the zig-zags by the zebra crossing. They whine about being “cash cows” yet fail to observe speed limits, which are nearly always in plain sight. They see the double-yellow lines outside the butcher’s, yet park on them anyway. They see the “EMERGENCY VEHICLES ONLY” painted on the floor in the supermarket car-park yet they drop their wife there anyway (otherwise she may have to walk twenty yards, and they can’t have that). They drive their kids right up to the school entrance, despite the “No Dropping-Off” signs, clogging the road and endangering other children (but the other kids aren’t as important as theirs, so that’s OK).

Near my son’s school there are very clear double-red lines which mean “No stopping at any time”. The parents completely disregard them, as if they apply to everyone else, but not them.

“Hey, I’m taking the kids to school. If I park somewhere else they may have to walk a bit” seems to be the message.

So they drop the kids as close to the entrance as they possibly can, then go home and log-on to the Daily Mail website and complain that children these days don’t get enough exercise.

At a hospital near me, some of the parking charges have recently been increased. This has, of course, sparked outrage amongst those who classify parking at a hospital free-of-charge as one of life’s inalienable “rights”. They are visiting sick relatives, and it’s quite outrageous that some people should seek to make money out of sick people. (Quite where they stand on drugs companies making fortunes out of sick people they never explain. Perhaps there’s a Facebook group somewhere that campaigns for all drugs companies to give all their profits to charity?)

This idea that everywhere should be accessible to cars is insidious and damaging. I know that we’re supposed to worship our cars (a trend made worse by the witless Clarkson and Co. and the gormless mugs that stand around behind them in the studio hoping that a bit of the stardust might rub off) but they are just lumps of metal that get us from A to B. They have been fetishized and made to be these objects of desire through which we confirm our own “success” in life’s great race.

Why don’t we just grow up?

This kind of persecution of car drivers must stop

This kind of persecution of car drivers must stop

Advertisements