The view from behind the wheel

30. October, 2007

I am in the unfortunate, if entirely of my own making, position of spending quite a lot of time behind the wheel of a car, simply because I live in Riga and work in Jurmala. This combination does have one advantage that the drivers of cars going (or rather not going, as is more commonly the case) in the opposite direction do not have - I travel twice a day against the flow of the worst of the traffic. Needless to say, I generally feel quite smug about this, so it came as something of a shock the other day when I had to go to school and then drive straight back into town, placing myself firmly in the worst of the rush hour traffic. I was horrified at the prospect, but tried to calm my shaking hands by reminding myself that some people do this every day, and thinking about the reduced chances of fatal accidents at speeds that rarely get above twenty. In the event, the drive back into town was just - well, boring really. You sit in traffic with nowhere to go and nothing to do and watch your fellow drivers watching you. And looking around, I realised that the same is also true for the majority of other drivers: in a situation that seemed the height of frustration - to be stuck on the way to work, when people have tasks to get to and important things to do - everyone seemed to accept their fate with a calmness that was frankly astounding. In a city that is not famed for the good manners, or patience, of its drivers, it appeared that the regular morning drive had reduced all of them to the same level of dumb acceptance that one expects from sheep.

I, on the other hand, entertained myself by noting how many cars were carrying passengers and how many had lone drivers. It was not a very scientific survey, and although I did my best to remember which part of the line to my left I had already counted, I cannot guarantee that I did not count any of them more than once. However, even accepting all that, the result was fairly conclusive – 82 percent of cars transported a driver and no one else. The maths is simple – if all of them shared the drive with one other person there would be 40 percent fewer cars on the road. I ranted about this for a couple of days to any poor soul who was close enough to be talked at before I started to consider the facts. The first of those being that I was in a car on my own. Admittedly, my situation was unusual and I had not been alone in the other direction, but then how many others were also not on a regular daily routine? Even with logic working overtime, though, there must have been a sizeable proportion of those drivers who drive at the same time and in the same direction on most workdays, and surely the simplest thing that any of us can do is to try and share a drive with someone else, whenever possible. Quite apart from helping the environment, reducing journey times, allowing freer access for the emergency services, saving petrol money and other practical reasons, I couldn’t help noticing that the cars with several people in seemed to be full of living, animated, human beings as opposed to the sheep-people who travelled alone.

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