This article was written for the News & Star.
We do like our cars, don’t we? The car has been the ultimate symbol of freedom for a long time now – and passing a driving test is a seminal moment in life for many.
And it is easy to see why. Cars provide us the opportunity to explore, to visit new places, to expand the limit of our horizons. I bet many reading this can fondly recall many an adventure they have had on a road trip with loved ones, even if they aren’t drivers themselves. Is it any wonder that we form an emotional bond with our cars?
Furthermore, over the years cars have only become safer, more sophisticated, more reliable, more comfortable – as well as more fuel efficient and cleaner.
However, you do start to feel that in some areas the tide is turning against the car. In London there remains huge controversy over the expansion of ULEZ charging and the strong feeling is that the Mayor implemented the policy to raise money rather than to make the air cleaner. In Wales the introduction of the 20 mile per hour restrictions is in danger of antagonising many otherwise law-abiding people. And of course, the decision to ban new petrol and diesel cars from 2030 will undoubtedly have an impact on many. In addition, there appears to be further moves in other cities to restrict or make it more difficult for cars to move around.
I actually don’t think even the most ardent petrolhead wants to see our city centres or beautiful national parks choked with cars – nor does anyone enjoy busy roads and all the traffic that is becoming the norm. But there is a danger that while tackling these issues, the car owner and the general public are not being listened to. Many are instead starting to feel angry being forced to do things which they are uncomfortable with. In London many of the cameras installed as part of the ULEZ expansion are being vandalised. This is totally wrong and shouldn’t be happening – but you do get the feeling that a lot of ordinary people are on the side of those doing the damage rather than those doing the installing. In Wales the risk is that many drivers who fall foul of the widespread 20mph limits will also start to feel aggrieved.
Some believe that electric cars are the solution – but these vehicles have their limitations (literally in terms of the distance they can go on a full charge). They are expensive and are much heavier than petrol vehicles (for which our infrastructure was built) and the materials needed to build them can themselves be difficult and environmentally damaging to extract. Of course, it is likely this technology will improve just as with petrol cars – but we are not at that point yet.
Better public transport also needs to be a part of the solution – but that requires huge investment, and it needs to be far more convenient and efficient to truly replace the car. A very difficult ask, but again, something that may prove much more achievable with future technological advancements.
If politicians want to continue with the ambition of a net-zero society, banning and subsidizing should not be the first resort, and all technologies need the opportunity to emerge and be part of the solution. But most importantly, the people must be taken along in any journey to change. Our cars have given us our freedom and we love them for it – any alternative has to do the same!