/ Motoring

Are we getting bored of the car?

Woman looking bored in car

Fuel and car insurance costs are sky-high and traffic levels are reaching gridlock – it’s enough to make us fall out of love with motoring. But have we reached ‘peak car’ saturation where we choose to cast off the car?

Some transport commentators certainly think so, according to a thought-provoking article in last week’s Independent. They talk about Britain having reached ‘peak car’ saturation, with motorists now deciding to get out from behind the wheel.

This ‘self-regulating’ change appears to have been prompted by a number of factors: migration back towards major cities (with better public transport options); the high price of fuel; the rise of the internet; and the extortionate insurance costs of becoming a driver before the age of 25.

Commuting by car is hell

I, for one, am not a great fan of the car for commuting. In a previous job, I spent up to four hours a day in South London gridlock driving to and from the office (I was expected to drive for the job, despite it being quicker by train or bike). Not only did I find the traffic hugely frustrating, I also resented wasting so many waking hours stuck behind the wheel.

These days, I commute 13 miles into central London every day, mostly by train, and the journey takes an hour door-to-door. The train is far from perfect, but at least I can use the time productively if I wish – catching up on work papers and emails at the start and end of the day, or unwinding with a good book or my iPod.

When I do drive to and from the office, it’s actually a nice change. I’m normally trying out one of the cars we have on test, which makes the journey interesting, but I know I’d quickly tire of it if I was pounding the same route day-in, day-out, in the same old car. There’s only so much Radio 4 I can listen to, and so many roadworks I can stomach…

Do cars equal freedom?

I still love cars (as you’d expect from the motoring editor), but that’s partly because I use my car mainly for leisure. I associate it with personal freedom and days out with my family – not with being stuck in a metal cage on the daily drudge.

But I know I’m in the lucky minority – I live in a city where the public transport links are very good, despite the fact that everyone loves to moan about them. I’ve got options for how I travel to work, and I’ve opted to leave the car at home.

Of course, if more of us start leaving the car at home it creates pressure on trains and buses. These are already crammed to bursting in rush hour, so if the growing demand isn’t well managed, some people could easily switch back to driving again.

It’s a delicate situation for our governments, local authorities and transport companies – after decades of growing car use, they must wish they had a crystal ball to help spot whether this decline is a continuing trend or a minor blip.

I suspect we may well have reached ‘peak car’, which is causing many of us to change our behaviour. I certainly don’t think this spells the end of the car, but it does suggest its role in our lives is changing. And maybe, just maybe, this will help us get back to what motoring was originally all about?

Comments
Member

Interesting piece and certainly thought provoking.

I have a slightly different strategy to commuting that saves my love for the car. Basically, if a commute is over 1hr then something has to change. Either you need to find a new route, a new mode of transport, or even a new job (although Motoring Editor for Which sounds like a job out of the top drawer!).

My commute to work was about 1hr 40 for 2 months door to door and so I moved to a place where it is only 50 minutes door to door.

Driving to work is not fun on the motorway, it is not fun in a city or town, but, if you get to drive country roads every day, commuting is a dream! I used to drive from Rugby – Northampton on the A428 every day and it was wonderful. Singing to my favourite tunes driving fast some days and doing economy runs the next, it was great.

So yes, if you live in a city, I don’t know why anyone would sit in gridlock. I can’t sit in traffic for more than 5 minutes without wanting to punch someone, so I avoid it at all costs. Even if it means me driving a long detour, anything but traffic.

And whilst Wales/Warwckshire/Northamptonshire/Oxfordshire exist, I will NEVER get bored with my car 🙂

Member

PLEASE – bored “with”, not “of”!

Member
Nick says:
27 May 2011

I do hope we have “fallen out of love with the car”. I have thought for a while that the “love” that people feel for their cars is terribly misplaced and competes with people’s love for more worthwhile things like people and relationships.

I know a lot of people will pooh-pooh this as being very precious but I have to say personally that I feel I have my priorities much better aligned since getting rid of my previous “prestige performance” car and getting a basic Skoda Fabia. It does the job brilliantly and is extremely economical in comparison to my previous chariot, but more to the point I regard it as what it is – a form of transport which efficiently gets me from A to B.

I know that I haven’t lost out in any way at all but gained in many ways (particularly in financial terms). The only people who have lost out are the manufacturers of big expensive cars who invest vast amounts of money in persuading us that what we really want is to spend lots of money on something that is just an inanimate object that doesn’t actually do the job of transport even partly as well as something which is very much cheaper.

Who needs a quick 0-60 time or a flashy car? Only people to whom these things are important; and my thesis is that they just SHOULDN’T be important. If they are important then one’s life priorities are all wrong.

Member
John says:
27 May 2011

Well Nick, you’re certainly a person that thinks everyone should share the same values as you – even though you changed your mind & became a Skoda driver.
My values are different to yours – I like my cars & recently enjoyed driving to northern Italy &, a few months later, to Gibraltar. Its not just about A to B for me – I want the journey in the way I want it to be – quiet, quality music, automatic systems, speech activiation, bluetooth, seat heaters, cruise control & pull my 2t trailer.
Your A-B Skoda wouldn’t float my boat – although I would push it in the river & see if it would become a boat or submarine.
My two cars offer freedom, travel, adventure & also the ability to get to the many different places where I work. A third family car allows my wife to travel 11 miles each way, 4 times a day – yes, 11 miles each way – to take my children to school & collect them at 5pm. No public transport in these parts but the roads are quiet & the cars are fast.
I’m 47 now & passed my test at 17 – all my jobs have involved driving & I still enjoy it. A shi….day at work goes away during my drive home. Yesterday’s drive home was Plymouth back to York & I was very relaxed when I got home to enjoy time with my boys.
We’re all different & I like my driving as well as what it brings to me. I’m very bitter about what the government’s doing to motoring too. Nevermind, rulers & managers …all share the same pot …the populous just has to soldier on.

Member
John Carter says:
27 May 2011

My friends all thought I was insane when I inexplicably (to them) took up motorcycling at the age of 41.

How pleased I am now (at the age of 65) to be still loving it with my 600 cc Honda Silverwing ************, (0 -60 in approx 7 seconds) totally automatic, bags of storage space, good weather protection, fantastic reliability, free parking mostly everywhere and use of bus lanes.

And of course if the M25 comes to a standstill I just keep on going!

Member
sw says:
27 May 2011

It is Bored WITH, not BORED OF> Please do not promote bad grammar.

Member

Hi Tosca/sw – thanks for pointing out the grammatical ‘inaccuracy’ in the title. We are aware that, strictly speaking, it should read ‘bored with’ – but Which? Conversation is a more informal platform, and often more colloquial usage of language gets the debate going. We try to write in a way that people will quickly relate to, hence the less formal use of language at times.

I’ve consulted Oxford Dictionaries, which says:

“The first two constructions, bored with and bored by, are the standard ones. The third, bored of, is more recent than the other two and it’s become extremely common. In fact, the Oxford English Corpus contains almost twice as many instances of bored of than bored by. It represents a perfectly logical development of the language, and was probably formed on the pattern of expressions such as tired of or weary of. Nevertheless, some people dislike it and it’s not fully accepted in standard English. It’s best to avoid using it in formal writing.”

Hope this clears it up. Better stop hijacking this debate now and let people discuss the matter at hand!

Member
Nick says:
27 May 2011

@ John – My point is that I thought previously that a car like the ones the manufacturers want you to buy was worthwhile, but what I have discovered is that personally I am much happier now that I am not in thrall to all of that unimportant stuff. You list all sorts of gadgets that are important and worthwhile to you but they are just things and totally ephemeral. They are a distraction from what is important in life. The fact that you are so derisory about a Skoda that does its job perfectly simply reinforces my point. Do you have similar disdain for your fellow human beings who choose them over your bling machine?