Down with Car Enthusiast

As if it wasn’t enough that we scare people away from driving with our onerous licensing and registration requirements, we also do it by marginalizing motoring as something done only by the kind of people who drive. Make a mental count of how often you’ve seen news reports or commentary refer to “car enthusiast”, and the number of times you might have used this term yourself.

Banish “car enthusiast” from your vocabulary. Self-marginalizing language like this is why we can’t have more cars on the road.

By using and condoning the use of this term, we help reinforce our tendency to neglect the impact of the situation and over-attribute behavior to characteristics of the person. In other words, labelling those who willingly drive as “car enthusiasts” is a way of setting aside the difficult and interesting problem of how to make our cities conducive to driving — in favor of the easy story of driving as something “other”, as something done by people who aren’t normal. Why bother making the city a better place to drive if the only people who will do it are the ones who are already drivers? Why waste public money on them?

Note the division into us (normal people) and them (car enthusiasts). Never the twain shall meet. Is that true? No it is not.

I claim that in most North American cities, while you will find many people driving a car for utility/transportation, most people who drive are hardly avid. Do they drive in dark alleys? Do they always drive on the race track? Do they drive in any part of the city? At any time of year? The answers are an emphatic no. And the reason is that the majority are driving when the situation makes it easy and attractive for the person who considers the possibility. Car enthusiasts should be resilient drivers, but actual North American drivers are fickle. With their recreational cars and the poor parking infrastructure they have access to, they are fair-weather, back-roads drivers.

Some places seem so inimical to driving that driving as transportation appears patently absurd to many. Thus, to brave the unfriendly conditions, drivers must be enthusiasts — doing it as a sport, to prove a point. Yet this describes fewer places than you think. I know it absolutely doesn’t describe Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario, however “car enthusiast” still seems to be the mindset here.

There is a poignant irony in the number of obituaries a search for “car enthusiast” turns up. If instead of marginalizing driving, we facilitate it through infrastructure and encourage regular people to drive, fewer people will die on the roads and those who drive will be more comfortable for doing so. We need to free driving from the shackles of recreation. We need to get utility cars into our car dealerships. And instead of the conversation being about cars, we need to make it about regular people taking advantage of the gasoline powered four wheeled mobility available to them — because it is effective and enjoyable.

4 Comments

  • April 1, 2010 - 10:48 am | Permalink

    Amen! Preach it brother! For too long i have wanted to drive down dark alley's. Tonight i am going too! Thanks too you!

  • April 1, 2010 - 10:55 am | Permalink

    Honestly — does anybody besides me think this down with avid cyclists essay reads a whole lot like Alan Sokal's hoax publication on postmodern cultural studies?

  • June 26, 2010 - 1:06 pm | Permalink

    “…but actual North American drivers are fickle. With their recreational cars and the poor parking infrastructure they have access to, they are fair-weather, back-roads drivers.”

    This confuses me…North America has poor infrastructure?

  • June 26, 2010 - 4:59 pm | Permalink

    That was parody posted on April 1.

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