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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Sustainable Skill: Driving

I've always hated to drive.  Although I occasionally have the opportunity to drive a car that I really enjoy being behind the wheel of, mostly I view it at best as a necessary evil of transportation and at worst as a boring chore punctuated by occasional demonstrations of other drivers' idiocy.

But I can drive, and I daresay I drive well.  And I have been driving for as long as I have been legally allowed. Although my memory is hazy on the specifics of 1980s Indiana driver's license law, I do remember that those of us who took a driver's ed class could get our licenses a month past our sixteenth birthday.  This is how I wound up at the DMV after a major snow in December, proving that I could drive on slick roads and avoiding idiots who wouldn't adjust their speed for conditions.  I still think I was exempted from the parallel parking test in part because I skillfully avoided getting hit by one of these speeding idiots, and in part because there were no parking spots not filled with snow drifts. Nonetheless, I was unwilling to wait so much as an extra week for better testing conditions; proving that I had the skill and could achieve the rite of passage were that important to me.

But lately, I've noticed a change.  Young people don't drive.  And it isn't just that they don't drive, it's that they can't drive.  I know many young -- and not so young -- people who don't have driver's licenses and who depend on others to ferry them around.  The fact that AAA can run an advertisement trying to encourage parents to goad their adult children into learning to drive before college starts shows just how much things have changed.

I've been hemming and hawing over writing this post for over a month, especially because I'm about to tell you that learning to drive, in this society, is just as important a sustainable living skill as knowing how to grow your own food.  And while I don't want to insult those who choose not to drive, I think that not being able to or legally allowed to is an unnecessary sacrifice of potential independence.

This is not to say that I think extensive, unnecessary driving is a good idea.  You don't have to drive to do your errands if you can make a bike work for you.  Carpooling to school or work is a great idea.  Heck, you don't even have to own a car if you don't want to.

But for heaven's sake, and, more importantly, for your own protection, learn how to drive a car and become legally licensed to do so.  You never know when you will get caught in a situation when you are the only available driver and you need to be able to drive competently: a small child in your care has to get medical care or you are out with friends that become ill or incapacitated.  You also never know when being able to use this tool -- and a car is a tool -- will help you live a more traditionally sustainable or frugal life.  City dwellers might borrow a Zip Car occasionally to stock up at a far-flung farmer's market or warehouse club. Those in suburbs and rural areas will find that driving is essential to access many of the resources you need for living, at least occasionally.

With that said, I will soon return to discussions of gardening, crocheting, cooking, and other more traditional sustainable activities.  But if you don't have a driver's license, please: learn to drive and get licensed.  What you do after that is your call.
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