Matthew Rozsa shares his experiences as someone who can’t drive.
I’m not sure if being unable to drive is a net positive or negative, but I do know that it’s worth writing about.
To clarify: When I say “unable to drive” I don’t mean that I have temporarily lost my license or had it suspended. I’ve always had lousy hand-eye coordination, and a lingering limp left in my cerebellum from a series of neurological episodes I suffered during my early childhood. Although my fine motor skills are more or less normal now, the sheer complexity of the hand-eye coordination required to drive is so overwhelming that my ability to command my muscles to act outpaces my body’s response time. The lag time might be a fraction of a second, but it’s enough to keep me off the road.
Since most editorials need a news peg of some sort, it’s worth noting that this Sunday will mark the 59th anniversary of the day (April 19, 1956) that Rep. George Fallon (D-MD) introduced a bill to the House of Representatives that ultimately became the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act. Signed into law by President Dwight Eisenhower (one of the measure’s most ardent champions), it was the largest public works program in our nation’s history up to that point, commissioning more than 40,000 miles of roads in an elaborate transportation infrastructure that stretched throughout the country. Naturally this was done in part to incentivize consumers to buy more automobiles—presumably from domestic manufacturers, of course—and as a result it cemented the central role of the car in America’s economic, social, cultural and even political life. Today automobiles are the primary method of transportation in this country.
The disadvantages of not being able to drive are obvious. Because I live in a small Pennsylvania city with a sub-par transit system, it is difficult for me to get around. Instead of being able to spend 10 or 15 minutes driving to meet friends or go to an appointment, I either have to depend on someone else for a ride or slog through 45 minute bus trips. There have been job opportunities for which I would have been extremely well-qualified if not for the fact that some of the professional responsibilities required the use of a car (a lot of employers simply assume that you can drive). It can even be embarrassing, particularly because of the social stigma attached to people who can’t drive (that they have criminal records, that they’re unsuccessful), although I personally found that almost everyone became understanding once I explained the situation.
That said, there are also unexpected benefits to not being able to drive. Although I’m thirty pounds over my ideal weight, I have much better endurance than most people in my weight class because I’m constantly forced to walk. The exercise may not be particularly strenuous, but it’s certainly healthier than sitting in a car. Indeed, after a while it’s hard not to marvel at how quickly many car-owners will resort to driving even when their destination is in walking distance. There is also the financial advantage: For all the inconvenience of relying on public transportation and taxis, there is no denying that I’ve had more money to spend on other things I like because I wasn’t forced to sink it into car payments, maintenance, gasoline, etc. Perhaps best of all, not being able to drive has given me more of a visual familiarity with my immediate neighborhood than I would have had if I wasn’t regularly forced to walk through it.
None of this means that I don’t still hope to someday learn how to drive. Even if I ultimately decide to continue with my car-free lifestyle, there would be an enormous feeling of personal triumph to one day obtain my license. That said, I don’t feel nearly as bitter or crippled by not being able to drive as I used to. In the past I used to view it as a disability; nowadays, I see it more as a mixed blessing.