“Motoring fanatics won’t give an inch for a better society”

In response to my letter in Local Tansport Today 643 , LTT published a letter (issue 644) from a particularly extreme motoring advocate. (SEE TEXT OF LETTER BELOW) I politely responded as follows: “I am not sure that there is any possibility of meaningful, reasoned, debate with the more extreme car fanatics such as Mr Peat (Road Danger Reduction Forum can’t accept car-based reality, LTT 4 April), but he does question me and I was brought up to be courteous, so here’s a try.
Nothing operates without the private car now”. Oh dear. To take an example, London has about two thirds of its journeys not by private car. It is quite possible to have a functioning society with far more use of the non-car modes. In fact, the history of post-war transport in many European conurbations is often one of resisting the temptation to rip out traditional city centres and insert new roads and facilities for car use, going for walking, cycling and public transport instead. All this happens in fairly conventional capitalist, consumerist 20th and now 21st century societies on the same continent as us.
This does not mean that there should be no cars about anywhere; it just means we are aware of the problems associated with mass car use that I referred to in my letter, and try to address them. It is an interesting feature of car fanaticism that the slightest questioning of motorist privilege leads to a panic stricken assumption that nobody will ever be allowed to drive a car ever again. The fanatics really do need to stop equating their basic identity with the “right” to drive wherever and however they may want – while identifying themselves as an oppressed minority deserving of special treatment, subsidy and exemption from the law.
Similarly: “...how can roads carrying large, essential, fast-moving machinery ever be safe places to be?”. Oh dear, again. Never mind the “essential” – exactly who decides what is “essential”, and to whom? – again there are plenty of possibilities for increasing safety shown both here and abroad. It may surprise the extremists, but plenty of normal motorists are actually prepared to obey speed limits and – wait for it – as in large areas of Europe, actually have lower ones. Watching out for other road users and accepting your responsibilities towards them is often accepted by many motorists as a basic duty for them, although you may have to go other countries to see this manifested to a reasonable extent.
The issue is reducing danger (there will always be some) and making those responsible for it – whether individual drivers, or highway or vehicle engineers – accountable. To many of us that seems to be natural justice and a requirement of a civilised society, quite apart from addressing issues of noxious and greenhouse gas emissions, local environmental damage, loss of local community, the health disbenefits of driving etc.


Dr Robert Davis, Chair, Road Danger Reduction Forum

(NOTE: Writers of letters don’t choose the bylines they are given: although in this case it seems to be appropriate: RD)

NOTE 2 : You can click onto a scan of the letter I responded to to read it,


..but generally the best thing is to read LTT letters by  subscribing to the online version or the print version.

5 thoughts on ““Motoring fanatics won’t give an inch for a better society”

  1. psychobikeologyps

    You touch on the question of identity I notice. The private car is what one might call an illusogenic technology (the internet is another one btw!). It use tends to create exagerrated feelings of power and autonomy which seduce a minority of people to make it central to their notion of self – any criticism of the private car or its consequences is experienced as a personal attack.

    And of course there will be the great fun of fancying oneself some sort of “motorist” freedom fighter. In reality, there are fewer “motorists” than their spokemen think – most drivers are, in reality, conscripts, who’d be happy to be discharged if only it became possible …

    (btw, way back in 2005 I remember the press officer for Transport 2000 grumbling that the editor of LTT felt obliged to print climate-contrarian letters from the petrolhead lobby in the interests of ‘liveliness’, presumably this is the same attitude?)

    1. rdrf Post author

      Very good point about identity. See Nick Cohen’s recent Obsrver piece (about pedestrains rights) where he talks about motorists getting into a weird sort of “identity politics”. Taking it personally is a common feature of car culture.

      I’m not so sure about the “conscripts” idea. It’s true that SOME would be happier to use alternatives, but plenty are well into motoring. If they do occasionally suggest that they HAVE to drive, they are not so good at when they have to be held accountable to those occasions when they don’t have to. Or of how they drive. Or of paying for it. Or of providing alternatives.

      LTT do give a lot of space to about 5 different car fanatics on everything from opposition to rail and public transport to support for law breaking. Providing they are not offensive or incendiary, hey, it’s freedom of speech. On climate change the Editor has always been sceptical. I think LTT is a valuable resource. If you have a beef, why not write in?

      1. psychobikeology

        I’m not so sure about the “conscripts” idea. It’s true that SOME would be happier to use alternatives, but plenty are well into motoring.

        I was thinking of that Gillian Anable paper. Also, in terms of casual conversations and what “everyone” says (and this is going to sound horrible, but there’s social psychology research to support it) many people’s “opinions” aren’t really worth the air used to speak them and they’d change their minds if the circumstances changed. The hardcore shouties sound as if they are many in number because they are always, well, shouting.

      2. rdrf Post author

        Sure. I’m just putting in my regulation scepticisim (pessimism?) – I have spent lots of time with people who – even if they also ride bikes – are well into the whole expereince and feelings associated with being a driver.

  2. fonant

    I like the idea that he thinks private motor cars are “efficient”. They are not particularly efficient at converting fuel into motion (lots of waste heat, especially from those friction brakes!). They are hopelessly inefficient at transporting people in large numbers anywhere (look at the queues in towns and cities, and at large events like pop concerts!). If he wants to see efficient transport, he need look no further than a person on a bicycle: more efficient than a shark at turning fuel into motion, and nearly as efficient as walking in terms of people travelling per square metre of space.


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