You Mean Some People Don’t Drive, What?

I knew exactly zero people in high school who didn’t have a driver’s license. It was Western Nebraska—I knew more people who couldn’t ride a bike than I did people who couldn’t drive. That’s just how it was!

My first car was my brother’s 1987 Dodge Colt. Somewhere around the fourth alternator, it was decided that it wasn’t worth the repairs (even though my “mechanic” has typically been my father, who works for the price of “stand here and hold that light for a while”). I inherited my parents’ 1989 Chevy Corsica. At 240,000 miles, its timing chain went caput. I drove the family minivan for a while—a rear wheel drive Astro beast—before spending all of college driving a 1996 Chevy Corsica.

When I became the first of my siblings to graduate college, I was given money toward a new used car. After careful selection, I found what I wanted on Facebook of all places. We put the $3,500 down on a 1999 Saturn SC1. At the time, I had very logical thinking, especially for a 23-year-old. I wanted something with good fuel economy and at least not-horrible emissions, a requirement that became ironic this summer, when the car was scrapped after failing essentially every state inspection it possibly could. Including the emissions test. I got $200 for it, and for the first time in 12 years, I don’t have a car.

And I feel relieved. 

In 2007, the Saturn moved me and my stuff (mattress strapped to the roof), from Lincoln, Neb. to Philadelphia, Pa..; from Philly to Washington, D.C.; from D.C. back to Lincoln; and then from Lincoln back to Philly. (I’m done moving.) The east coast introduced me to people I once-thought-mythical—not just those without a car, but those without a driver’s license (by choice and not by court order or three strikes laws.) In Washington, my car fell into disuse because of readily available public transportation (so much so that one time I went to drive it and the battery was dead from slow-drain). Back to Lincoln? Back to frequently driving. Philly was walkable, but I worked in the suburbs, and found commuting by car easier than the regional rail lines. So I drove.

But now I’m car free. It’s different, though, from when I lived in D.C. and simply didn’t drive much—there, I still had the car. I’ve found that my Middle American dependency on cars is as much a psychological as anything, and I’m finally breaking myself of that dependence.

This is a great step forward. I am no longer am worrying about paying my insurance bill ($350, twice a year). I no longer have to worry about having money for gas. Vehicle registration, driver’s license transfers, inspections—no longer hanging over me. I never have to pay for parking again (unless a friend is driving and I want to be nice). No more tickets. No more costly repairs.

And if push comes to shove, I can just do what the kids in my neighborhood do—drive a loud-ass four wheeler or dirtbike down the street.


John Wenz has had a lot of cars, and a lot of jobs. 


31 Comments / Post A Comment

bgprincipessa (#699)

Yay for fewer cars! I gave up on my car earlier this year after it more or less imploded/died about 20 minutes into my return trip from NY to MD. At this point it was already 6 months past inspection too – oops. Anyway, I live in Baltimore and no, it is not the best public transportation system, but for the most part I am able to make it work. And I Zipcar when I need it, which is helpful.

The funny part about this is that I KNOW I must be saving money, yet the savings are nowhere to be found. Where do they go? Sigh, expanding to live within my means.

kristindru (#2,477)

Congratulations! I am in the process of buying a car after being car-less for 6 years…and when reading this the first thing I thought was: How did he get insurance for $350/month!????!
Public transportation, a bicycle, and generous friends can go a long way during this transition and beyond. Best of luck!

patiolanterns (#2,234)

@kristindru I know! That’s what caught my eye too. I just paid six months of insurance last week and it was almost $860. I pay over $1700 a year to insure a 2011 Ford Focus.

bgprincipessa (#699)

@kristindru Actually he said $350 twice a year – which, yes, I know, incredible.

HereKitty (#1,423)

Zipcar is actually cheaper than JUST insuring my elderly car was when I finally got rid of it. Zipcar, Zipcar, yaaaaay Zipcar!

josefinastrummer (#1,850)

@HereKitty Totally with you on the Zip Car! And in Philly, we have two options-Zip Car and Philly Car Share! They are all over the place.

Car2Go is way better but it’s only in a few cities (not NYC and not SF).

I got my license within 6 months of my 16th birthday. I haven’t had a car since I was 22 (which was never technically mine, it was my dad’s, I just drove it). I’ve been a licensed driver for 14 years, I’ve been carless for 8 of those.

I’ve lived in the DC area since 2004, and I’ve never had a car here. The brakes on mine failed about 3 days before I moved here, which was convenient, since I hadn’t planned on bringing it. I still have a license (MD-issued), because occasionally I do drive. I have memberships to ZipCar and Car2Go (which is a better service, because cars don’t have to be returned to their point of origin, but ZipCar has bigger vehicles), but mostly I use Metro and BikeShare (and taxis and friends who have cars).

I like to brag about my flawless driving record (no accidents, no speeding tickets, never been pulled over outside of a situation where they were pulling everyone over), and then my friends remind me that this is because I don’t drive. But I’m also a good driver, which people often remark on when they do get in a car I’m driving (I can even drive a stick, if you don’t care about your transmission still being there when we’re done). I’ve known several people who don’t drive and are bad at it (of course, I’ve known several bad drivers who do it every day, too) or afraid of it, and some who have even had their careers negatively impacted by their unwillingness to drive.

Sometimes I feel bad because I can tell you 15 ways to get to your destination in DC, but I have no idea where you should park once you get there.

I am a DC no-driver’s-license person! I am thinking about getting one, though, because I will need it if I ever want to move somewhere besides certain neighborhoods in DC/NY/Philly/Boston/Chicago/SF/Portland(?). Or Europe.

@cuminafterall Or certain Canadian cities! Sorry, Canada.

cherrispryte (#19)

@cuminafterall I am too! This completely confuses some people. And I think I ought to know how to drive? Like, in case of the zombie apocalypse? (I can never imagine living anywhere but the East Coast and possibly Europe)

But at an anxiety-filled 28, how do you learn to drive without looking like a gigantic incompetent idiot? Like, I have a DC-issued ID card. I’d have to go get a learner’s permit? Then I’d be almost 30 and with a learner’s permit – that won’t be awkward at bars! It just seems like too much hassle.

Also I am completely convinced that I will wind up killing someone via car someday. Driving looks so dangerous!

ThatWench (#269)

@cherrispryte On this point, we appear to be the same person.

My usual solution has been to declare that the self-driving cars should only be about 10 years away, and I think I can hold out until then.

Of course, I have a “cheat code” in that I have a partner with a car and license (who would prefer that I be eligible to be the DD).

cryptolect (#1,135)

@cherrispryte My New Year’s resolution for 2011 was to get a license. Haven’t yet, but I do have a learner’s permit. My ONE THING is to use up the rest of my driving lessons in the 6-hour package I bought a year ago. Maybe… I will go schedule that now?

P.S. I am 33…

josefinastrummer (#1,850)

@cuminafterall If you move to any neighborhood in actual Philadelphia, you will not need a car. It might be nice and faster than public transportation but you never need one here. It drives me insane when my friends and family have to drive everywhere and complain about the cost of gas when they could walk or take the bus or ride a bike. Really, it is that easy!

@cherrispryte I had a learner’s permit for a year (never got around to taking driving lessons), and it wasn’t awkward at all. Nobody sees it except the bouncer/waiter/liquor store checkout person, and they’ve seen everything, trust me.

null (#1,101)

@cherrispryte I have incredible anxiety over driving and 100% feel I’m doing the world a service by staying off the road. YOU’RE WELCOME, EVERYONE.

Anyway, I’ve had my learner’s permit for 10 years! No one ever notices / calls me out on it, but I personally wouldn’t care if they did. I’m 31. It has definitely cost me more money long term because they expire every 2 years, but I’m currently working at getting my license and am glad to not have to do the written part again (though it wouldn’t be a bad idea, weird policy, DMV).

TARDIStime (#1,633)

@klaus Yes, I also feel as if I’m doing everyone a service by not getting behind the wheel of a heavy and fast-moving vehicle. I did it once and it only took about half an hour before my mum and I were both hyperventilating.
It’s also not helpful that I live in an area which has some seriously insane drivers.

wearitcounts (#772)

i daydream about selling my car. i could if i really had to. i don’t drive much, and insurance is such an expensive bitch.

samsei (#947)

I’m going to be slightly smug here, because my insurance is $132.35 per year. It’s a combination of a really old car (’84 Mercedes 300 TD), good driver discount, low mileage discount, and having insurance from USAA, which is non-profit and is awesome. It’s also just the minimum liability insurance required in California, because no way will anyone steal my car!

Worker Parasite (#2,292)

@samsei Nice, I bet that car is amazingly good on gas and reliable as hell too.

I could get by without a car, but I really like having one. My 14 year old Toyota gets decent mileage, is cheap to insure, and is very reliable. I ran the numbers awhile back, if I sold the car and bought a bus pass (work is too far to walk/bike) I’d be saving about $20 a month. I’ll gladly spend that extra $20 to have the car.

zimm (#2,228)

I actually kind of like driving, but I hope that I can live somewhere where I don’t have drive on a day to day basis when I graduate from college.

At the same time, I don’t really ‘get’ people consciously choose not to get a driver’s license (and are smug about it — seems like everyone here wants to on some level). What if you get a job offer somewhere that you need a car? Or you need to drive a friend’s car? I don’t know, seems like a useful skill to have just in case.

DickensianCat (#971)

@Nicole Zimmerman@twitter not smug, just kind of terrified. I live in Brooklyn and have driven maybe twice in the past decade. I have never been a good, confident driver, and I openly admit that and figure trying to convince myself otherwise at the peril of hurting myself or others just aint worth it. Why force my friends to stay on edge during road trips when the majority of them tell me they prefer to drive anyway? Granted, when it came time for me to renew my license or let it lapse and just get an ID, I chose the license in case of moving and emergencies, as you stated, but generally I am better left happily in the passenger seat.

ThatWench (#269)

@Nicole Zimmerman@twitter I think there’s some pride in being able to say, “this thing that you are surprised to learn I can live without? I’ve lived my whole life without it. Maybe you can learn to use it less/live mostly without.” This can definitely cross the line very easily into smug, especially if one starts stressing all the evil harms that cars do – and how anyone who ever drives is making them all worse.

That said, I am a lifelong license-less person, and I am somewhat proud of it. (I wouldn’t be opposed to getting one, but here I reference the other folks in this thread talking about the anxiety of learning to drive late in life.) And part of that pride does come from the fact that I see cars as doing more harm than good, on a macro, society-wide level. (This goes beyond the environment; I mean urban design, cost of food, a whole host of economic segregation/discrimination factors, history of use in racial oppression, etc.) So, if a conversation with me helps convince someone it really is possible to drive less/not at all, I do think that is a good thing. Again, I know that this can cross the line to Smug very quickly, and I may even have been guilty of this in the past, so apologies to the universe on that.

selenana (#673)

@Nicole Zimmerman@twitter I agree that it’s a useful skill to have, even if you don’t use it. Especially irritating are people who refuse to get a license/learn to drive (and are smug about it) but then are always bumming rides and needing you to drive them somewhere. And don’t offer to help with gas.

I use public transportation 90% of the time but there have definitely been emergency situations where having a car has been crucial – like driving people to the hospital, going to get someone in a bad situation in the middle of the night, or picking up a stranded person after public transportation has failed.

alexbaca@twitter (#1,557)

Live in D.C., am licensed to drive, never drive, am probably more smug about all that than I need to be.

I did have my car here for a year or so. I was finishing my undergrad degree at University of Maryland and my parents insisted that I keep the car in case of commuting-to-campus-related emergencies. I didn’t change my license or registration—I needed to maintain Maryland residency to be eligible for in-state tuition—and was really lucky that there were a few blocks of unzoned parking around where I lived. That saved quite a few dollars. Except I never drove the car. The only reason the battery didn’t totally drain is because I had to move the car on street-sweeping days.

Now I’m back at UMD for my grad degree and I bike back and forth. It’s…fine. But it costs nothing!

ATF@twitter (#1,471)

I gave up my car 8 (!) years ago when I moved to Boston and have never regretted it for a single second. I walk a fuckton and when I can’t walk somewhere, I have ZipCar. Yes, sometimes I get irritated that a day trip somewhere is an extra $100 or so due to the ZipCar rental but it’s so much cheaper on a yearly basis to do it that way.

And I NEVER have to dig my car out of the snow. I spend those days drinking wine and baking in my jammies. :)

I can’t imagine not having or driving a car. I would feel like a prisoner. Granted, I live in Montana where car-less options are limited but even when I lived in Minneapolis I loved the freedom of just getting in my car and driving into the countryside, exploring small towns, seeing the sights and not being restricted by transit authority schedules. I drive a tiny old car, fuel efficient with cheap insurance that costs almost nothing to operate, insure or license but it opens up the almost the whole world of possibilities. Good for you guys if you can live without cars but I sure can’t. They’ll have to pry my car keys out of my cold, dead hands.

hopelessshade (#580)

Maan, the DMV was confused as hell when I turned in my TX drivers license for a IL state id. But I have always hated, hated, HATED driving, so much so that even though I grew up in the Texas suburbs (i.e. no transit or sidewalks), I did not drive. I feel surprisingly free not having that “well, technically you can legally drive” card hanging over me. I cannot drive! Hoorah!

cherrispryte (#19)

So I had one of my “trapped in a car and suddenly have to drive” nightmares last night, and I blame this post.

Karencarrot (#2,492)

When I was 17, my mom had to remind (then beg) me to get my learner’s permit. I never had the desire or motivation to drive! While learning to drive, it really wasn’t something that came naturally to me… in fact it was really really scary and sucked. I ended up going to college in a tiny town where every distance could be walked… then moved to Denver, where every distance could be bicycled. Now, at age 32 and married, I’ve still never had a driver’s license and my husband hasn’t owned a car in many years! Usually we ride bikes or walk, or take a bus if Seattle’s rain is too soaking.

I absolutely despise driving. I walk to work and take the bus. We have one car between the two of us, with my fiance doing 99.9% of the driving.

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