OPINION | How driving slowly has become a joy in lockdown

2019 Volkswagen Amarok V6. Image: QuickPic
2019 Volkswagen Amarok V6. Image: QuickPic

Have you ever driven less than these last few weeks? I sure haven't. 

For nearly two decades, I have been writing about cars and vehicle technology, which implies a lot more driving than most people outside of the taxi and trucking industry will ever do.

Thousands of test driving kilometres, on a diversity of roads, here and abroad. 

Driving for the sake of it is part of my workload but also a facet of mindfulness. This is a privilege of writing about cars and transport technology for a living: you never need an excuse to do a 300km weekday roundtrip, for evaluation purposes. 

Lockdown has changed that. Dramatically. I only drive twice a week now, to the local grocery store. For the briefest of distances. At low speeds. And the experience has been enlightening. 

Rediscovering the art of driving

Without the rush of traffic, venturing onto uncrowded roads has been a purer driving experience for me. Like many of you, I savour my journey to the store now. Driving slowly, I deliberately take pleasure in the smallest independent inputs allowed: steering, gear-changing, braking and throttle control. 

In a world where we can now do so little, beyond the realm of all things virtual, driving has been a depressurising experience. The irony of that is powerful because for most people daily commuting in traffic, has always been the exact opposite: a pressure experience. 

Things will be quite different in the post-lockdown world. Sober expectations see a daily schedule where traffic volumes might be eased, as people are allowed more freedom to work diligently from home, or perhaps only commute to work on alternative days. 

audi a1

2020 Audi A1. Image: QuickPic

Cars need to move!

Cars are designed to move. They were never purposed to crawl along at low speed. In sweltering temperatures, engines are at risk of overheating when stuck in traffic, due to insufficient radiator cooling airflow. 

An array of autonomous driving assistance systems have made traffic more tolerable. Radar guided cruise control and autonomous emergency braking systems make it possible for drivers to be less burdened with paying attention in heavy morning traffic. 

Driving slowly, without being surrounded by a crush of other cars, has been enlightening to me. I've disabled all the driver assistance systems on my car and taken joy in the intuitive experience of driving again. 

It is a strange paradox that driving was always an aspiration of status and act of adult independence. Yet, badly planned cities and inflexible working hours have made driving a hateful chore, at great expense, for many. This is not what car ownership should be. 

bmw m140i

2020 BMW M140i. Image: PressClub / BMW SA

Lift-clubs are out – but Sunday drives are in again

Owning a car should be freeing. And although we currently cannot explore all of that, there will be a lot of driving after lockdown. Car sharing could decline rapidly as people might be unwilling to share duties in a school, sport or work lift-club arrangement. That will mean more driving for everyone. 

My advice is to take simple joy in your lockdown, slow driving experience. Refamiliarise yourself with the privilege of being able to pilot your own car – and transfer that mindfulness in your post-lockdown driving behaviour. We’ll hopefully all become more aware and courteous drivers, grateful for the freedom of being allowed to move about on our own schedule and routine again.

When we can drive free again, perhaps also commit to the Sunday drive tradition. Not to visit a specific venue, but to do it as our parents did: exploring spaces beyond our towns and cities, using roadside picnic facilities. 

Driving post-lockdown will be part of the great normalisation project, as opposed to gorging yourself on Netflix, the resources of which you have probably exhausted already. 

Travel,Traffic,Cape Town

Image: iStock

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