Reflections on becoming a young driver: Es ist nicht alles Gold was glanzt

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Tess, my lovely 20 year old daughter, is currently in Tokyo.  The first picture she has sent me is of a crowded train.  The first message she has sent me tells me that she has been on the busiest train station in the world.  The second picture she has sent me is of said busiest station in the world. Transportation pics and facts – she knows how to make me happy.

One could argue that Tess and my lovely 16 year old Maddie are a bit more tuned in to transporty issues than many – being part of Carfreefamily and having a Dad that has constantly gone on about public transport, making them look at ticket vending machines and tickets and assess buses in foreign cities, and design smartcards (enjoy the personalised smartcard designs from 2003 developed by Tess, Maddie, Chloe and Lottie during a “Smart Media Design Workshop” we held on a wet day in South Uist in 2003).

Lottie's smartcard: with a remarkably lifelike picture.  The other side had a ice pic of a ....CD

Lottie’s smartcard: with a remarkably lifelike picture. The other side had a ice pic of a ….CD

Tess' smartcard: themed around drama with a pic of a king

Tess’ smartcard: themed around drama with a pic of a king

Maddie's smartcard: sporting a smiley bat

Maddie’s smartcard: sporting a smiley bat

Chloe's smartcard: note useful helpline and spider

Chloe’s smartcard: note useful helpline and spider

Of course, like many parents, I over-egg my own influence on them, though us not having a car has meant that they need to think a bit more about travel options as a lift from me is not possible (see earlier posts). For example Maddie has a demon knowledge of Lothian Bus routes not because of  me, but because she uses them a lot.

So what happens about learning to drive?  During time out from University Tess decided she wanted to drive and driving lessons duly became the present of choice from family and friends.  Getting to a decent level, and having passed her theory test, she ran out of money and time and started University in Leeds as a non-driver.  Coming back from University for Easter she had arranged lessons and a test and aimed just to give it a go.  On 13 April she passed her test.  Wow – well done.

More about motivations in learning to drive some other time – Tess’ mainly governed by having some time on her hands and thinking it would be a useful life skill to have. [She is bucking the trend - driving is declining amongst younger people - see  "Decline in Young drivers" research in the links  - from Beth's great site].

I was interested in what the experience has been like for Tess (eldest daughter in carfreefamily)- how has she found becoming a driver?  Yes she knows how to make me happy – here are her reflections – thanks Tess x


Passing your driving test feels like a mammoth step towards adulthood: this exclusive level of independence which allows you to do what the hell you want and whenever the hell you want to do it.

In the first weeks since I passed my test it was just about the need and desire to drive. Walking to college, to the gym, I was constantly assessing people driving and imagining what I would be doing if I was sat in one of those cars. Lights turn to solid amber, take the car down to second gear!  It was really annoying actually.

On top of this I was obsessing over what car I want – Googling for small cars in which I can just toodle up to Edinburgh from Leeds if I just feel like a nice tea instead of rice and pesto. It’s so stupid -I don’t really need a car but driving is new and fun, that is all it boiled down to. I also was thinking a car seems like the answer to my current life of feeling trapped in Leeds, a City I don’t really want to be in and don’t really know well – a way to get out. However, I think it’s just like when I buy a dress because I feel fat: I don’t need the dress, Its just my mind that needs a wee fix. A consumerist thing..

As time has progressed and now that I have some access to a lovely little car (Thank you Julie and Jenny) my opinion has changed a lot. I don’t want to own a car now. I don’t like the responsibility (haha) of having to make sure it’s safe and well parked.  And I really didn’t like the parking ticket I just got! I don’t like how friends are so keen to go on a drive, like it’s the best thing to do in a day.  It is still somewhat nerve-racking driving which just adds stress to my days.

Overall though, I would say the biggest thing that has put me off wanting a car is how awful I felt when it was just me in there driving along amongst all the other cars with just one person in them. It feels awful, consuming that much energy and resources just for one person, doing routes which could have easily been taken by bus, probably safer and more relaxing too. It really is scary how many of us choose to drive -especially for those when there’s easy alternatives.  For a person who has never really been exposed to daily car journeys (car free family problem!) it was definitely a shock.

Being able to drive and sometimes having access to a car has definitely helped me make my life more flexible. It allowed me to go to my friend’s at 10pm and leave at whenever I wanted (1am) because I don’t have to rely on getting a bus and finding the change.  It allowed me to see my boyfriend but get home in time for tea. And having this license means I can hopefully go drive round Iceland and go on some country walks with my friends.

Looking back at the last months the car certainly hasn’t enabled me to do completely unique things or given me a life line - it has increased the pace of my daily life and my chances of dying.

As my German teacher taught us on one of our first vocab tests: Es ist nicht alles Gold was glanzt (how come I remember that from 1976?) – All that glistens isn’t gold.  Having access to a new mobility option – fantastic: ownership, responsibility, costs (which Tess has been shielded from in borrowing Jenny’s car) – not quite so good.  (There’s a different way to increase mobility channels and services: increase the gain and decrease the pain – but that’s the day job….)

Oh and DEATH….. yes certainly she has an increased chance of dying with traffic accidents being the largest cause of death for 16-24 year olds.  But how fantastic is this as a part of the solution?




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