As a carer I have to take both of my disabled parents to various clinics, appointments and sundry trips out. Today, it was a visit to the hairdresser with my Mother and then a journey to the audiologist, to collect and be fitted with her new hearing aid. There was then a journey for shopping and a final visit to the pharmacist, before returning home. Luckily, both my parents qualify for the London Taxicard Scheme. The Black Cab are a disabled friendly vehicle and the yearly quota of subsidised journeys are an absolute godsend. However, there is another reason why I find this service invaluable. I do not, nor have I ever held a driving license. To date I have never driven a car and considering my age, the cost of ownership and insurance, along with my personal mindset on the subject, it’s highly unlikely that I ever will.
I written in the past about social conventions and how it can be a curious situation if you ever find yourself on the other side of the perceived social norm. Driving is such a common place activity, that it often really flummoxes people when I tell them that I don’t, nor do I own a car. Often the first thing they assume is that I’ve lost my license for legal reasons, as being a non-driver really isn’t common among people of my age (for those who do not know, it’s 50). But I have arrived at this situation, first by circumstance and then in later years through choice. When I was 16, my friend Chris was the first person out of our social group to learn how to drive. As he was a trainee estate agent, his employers paid for his driving lessons and supplied him with a car. He was always happy to drive as it is something that to this day he very much enjoys, being a bit of a petrolhead. So, during my early years, there was no necessity for me to know how to drive and the situation perpetuated from there.
For those readers unfamiliar with the UK and Greater London in particular, there is an abundance of of public transport available in the capital. Cities and wider urban sprawl have grown and evolved differently from more modern cities elsewhere in the world. Hence Buses, the Tube (underground trains) and suburban trains are plentiful in the capital and it is easy (on paper at least) to travel about. Obviously, there are rush hours and demands on all services at key times but getting from home to work or attending social activities has never been a major problem. There’s also less snobbery regarding public transport in the UK compared to say the US. So, during my twenties and thirties, getting to work was a matter of commuting and driving wasn’t required. When I got married my then wife, owned a car and again was someone who enjoys driving for its own sake. Hence, I again managed to avoid having to learn this skill. It is also important to point out the culture of walking that exists in the UK. For me short journeys are carried out on foot, and it is not unusual for me to record a step count of 10 to 15K per day.
Being a non-driver also means that an entire aspect of popular culture has passed me by. I have no interest, let alone love affair, with the cult of cars and shows such a Top Gear have never really appealed to me beyond mild amusement. Where some people idolise performance vehicles and even see their identities and societal status defined by the, I merely see them as modes of conveyance and nothing more. This has resulted in several crest fallen individuals who have bent my ear at social events, telling me about their new shiny [insert name of fancy car here], only to have their anecdote met with a blank look, rather than admiration and valedictory remarks. Also, I have certainly benefitted financially from not owning a car and to date, have not ever found myself inconvenienced in an emergency by my inability to drive, as so many people told me I would.
However, one problem clearly caused by being a non-driver, is that I do not own one of the most common documents used to verify one’s identity. The driving license along with the passport are the pretty much the last word in proving who you are and where you live. Or at least they are here in the UK. If you want to open a bank account, obtain a state pension forecast, or do your taxes online, you’ll have to jump through various hoops to establish who you claim to be. Not owning a driving license makes that demonstrably harder. Therefore, I have gone so far as to consider actually applying for a provisional license simply to address this problem, especially as more and more services are moving online and require you to validate your identity.
I think that in the past, especially during the seventies and eighties, that not owning a vehicle and being able to drive was indeed a disadvantage for a single person. But nowadays, because of where I live and the technology and services that are available, it is by far a lot easier. However, as a caveat I would like to stare that raising a family still requires access to a vehicle for convenience and reasons of personal sanity. Yet, once the pressures of raising children have gone, being without a car comes around again in one’s autumn years, although that is usually determined by health and medical factors. Overall, I do not feel that I’ve missed out by not driving and I agree with all those who know me well, and their assertion that I do not have the temperament for it anyway. Yet, I also realise that if I had lived anywhere else other than London during my youth, I may not have remained a non-driver.