Thursday, June 07, 2007

Does driving = freedom?

From my friend Fritz:

Please take a look at this blog:

http://www.edn.com/blog/400000040/post/1850010385.html

The writer comes very close to making a point that I’ve been wanting to make for about a month since it first started cooking in my brain, to wit:

Advocates of automobiles robotically tout the “freedom” of the private automobile. They define this freedom as a) being able to leave and return whenever you prefer, rather than adapting your preferences to the fixed schedule required by passenger rail; and b) being able to go wherever the road system goes, i.e., everywhere, as opposed to the much smaller number of destinations served by rail.

But is this freedom as big a deal as the auto advocates represent it to be? True, driving your own car enables you to come and go whenever you please, but once you’re behind the wheel, that’s the last increment of freedom you’re going to enjoy. As soon as you’re seated in your car you surrender a number of other freedoms, such as the freedom to go to the bathroom whenever you want, the freedom to work at a laptop, the freedom to read a magazine, newspaper or book; and the freedom to eat. Technically, you can eat while driving, but not without endangering yourself and others, and not at any level of genuine pleasure or satisfaction. Thanks to personal electronics, you can listen to music or radio broadcasts in either environment, but you cannot safely watch TV or movies in a car, as people do on trains.

You also can’t strike up a conversation with a stranger while driving, as you can on a train. Many people would like to, as evidenced by the way curious lone drivers discretely inspect other lone drivers without making eye contact while stopped at a traffic light.

And speaking of traffic lights, that’s another thing you’re free from when you ride a train. The engineer has to watch for the signal change, but the passengers don’t. They can keep reading, writing, talking, listening to their iPods or watching videos while the train sits without worrying whether somebody behind them will honk if they don’t move fast enough when the light changes.

Assuming a railroad offers enough frequencies to meet my needs for flexibility, I find far more real personal freedom in riding a train than in driving my car, which increasingly feels like a prison. A prison is a place where you spend most of your time sitting and where you’re not allowed to do what you want. I think that’s a pretty good definition of driving.

2 Comments:

Blogger Christopher said...

"Freedom's Just another word for nothing left to lose . . . "

I think freedom and community are often in tension. One person's freedom ends up infringing on the common good. In many ways our culture chooses freedom of the individual more frequently than other cultures. It often works against our long-term good.

I think that's the dynamic with cars - many (perhaps the minority, but a lot) would choose the freedom to go whenever they want over the value of community with other passengers and a more relaxed trip and all the other benefits you mention.

12:14 PM  
Blogger pc said...

Another flip side to that "freedom" is increased responsibility -- not just the financial responsibility carried by the driver (or the social costs to the rest of society), but also theoretically the responsibility to drive carefully and to pay constant attention to the road. Of course, this is rarely actually in evidence.
pc

10:17 AM  

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