Why Being A Non-Driver Should Be A New Badge Of Honour
“I don’t drive, I get driven,” is my usual response to why I don’t have a licence, aged 36 and a quarter.
The vainglorious riposte is a form of defensiveness, of course. There’s a social stigma to not driving.
But nowhere is that stigma more stinging than in Australia. I’ve lived in Sydney for almost seven years and the attitude towards non-drivers has often surprised me. Australians tend to treat non-drivers with suspicion.
“Do you have a disability that prevents you from driving?” a perplexed colleague asked once me after I confessed I didn’t. No, Margaret, I’m not disabled. I just never took driving lessons.
It shouldn’t really be something I have to ‘confess’ to at all -- the non-driver should be a badge of honour. I take the polar opposite view to Natasha Lee, who recently wrote for 10 daily, saying:
“Let me confess that I don't particularly enjoy not being able to (legally) get behind a wheel. But it's been so long since I seriously considered learning how that I now feel trapped in a state of spite-filled inertia that only grows whenever someone asks me why I don't drive.”
People like Natasha should be celebrated, not persuaded down this road of non-driver shame.
This week, Scott Morrison said: "The roads are clogged, the buses and trains are full... we can hear that."
Non-drivers de-clog the congested roads with their walking and cycling habits. Our mental health is likely to be more robust, given the manifold benefits of exercise on our daily moods, and no road rage to boot.
We’re less of a strain on the health system, because we’re likely to be physically fitter. There are more parking spaces because our bicycles are tucked around some lamppost. Our carbon footprint is lower so we’re less of a gas-guzzling blight on Australia’s beautiful natural environment.
READ MORE: Why I'm A 32-Year-Old Who Still Can't Drive
We’re less likely to cause accidents because when we drink alcohol, we fork out the money for an Uber home.
My intention isn’t to demonise drivers here (nobody would ever give me a lift in their car again!) In regional and remote areas, driving is essential. It’s a requirement of some jobs, too, so I haven’t ruled out one day getting my L-plates.
But as population-centred debates rage on over what kind of cities we want to create here, we need to shift the perception of the non-driver. Otherwise, our cities will become LA: soulless, vacuous, ugly, car-obsessed.
Australian city drivers will complain about sitting for an hour in gridlocked traffic when it'd take them the same amount of time to walk to work, listening to a podcast.
In London, where I’m from, few people now drive thanks to the congestion charge, excellent cycleways and investment in public transport.
There’s been a cycling revolution there, and it has become one of the city’s biggest success stories: the bicycle is now the most popular form of commuter transport. Stats show that only three percent of Londoners drive a car or van in central London every day, and only seven percent once a week or more. Seventy-one percent of Londoners never drive in central London.
Comparable stats for Australia have shown that nearly two in three Australians drive to work.
In Australia, cyclists are often treated as menaces. In Sydney, where I cycle, I’ve noticed that some are intolerant of cyclists which is, franky, bizarre, given that we’re causing them shorter traffic jams. Male cyclists are mocked as Mamils (middle aged men in lycra). The kudos granted to the gas guzzlers reigns supreme in the peculiar hierarchy.
READ MORE: Calls For Bike Helmet Rules To Be Relaxed
Pushes for cyclists to register exist within the City of Sydney council. Requiring cyclists to register for a licence is yet more fussy, nanny-state regulation and bureaucracy. It’s creating a solution to an invented problem; it’s drivers, not cyclists, who cause the most road traffic accidents. Anything dis-incentivising cyclists like this will mean Australian cities will become LA and not London: a series of motorways rather than cycleways and parks.
Thankfully, Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore is resisting such calls, which are based more in populism than on evidence.
The attitude that, if you haven't got a driver's licence, you've missed out on an essential life landmark, needs to change.
Besides, when the self-driving car revolution arrives, driving will become an archaic skill anyway.
My name is Gary, I’m 36 and I can’t drive. And I’m secretly proud of that. Well, not so secretly now!