How to reduce your car journeys and drive in a greener way

Please feel free to blame me for this snow and freezing weather.  I thought that mid March would be the perfect time of year to take the plunge and GIVE UP MY CAR.

Preparation for giving up a car

Over a few years, I've been weaning myself off:
  • Unnecessary car journeys
  • Short car journeys 
  • Journeys where I can take public transport instead
  • I've also been keeping a diary to see how often our cars are used. 
Consequently I've been doing a lot more cycling, even during the winter, here's how to cycle in winter.

A million reasons not to give up your car 

We all have stacks of reasons as to why we couldn't possibly give up our cars and of course if you live more remotely this will be much harder and equally, if you're based in a city you may already be car-free.  We live just over a mile from a small town and it's excruciating to see how few of our neighbours walk or cycle short distances.  Frequently cars go out and return within a few minutes. 

Do you really, (really?) need to use the car? The 'apart from when carrying lots of things, I'm not taking the car out if the journey is under...' varies from person to person.  For some it's under a mile, for others it's under two miles, five miles, or twenty miles.  (I have a friend who cycles over  sixteen miles to work - all year round, no matter what the weather and the return journey is at night).  There are no surprises that he is super fit and much admired.

Be honest with yourself.  'I would have walked / cycled / taken the bus, but I would have been late.'  Plan ahead.  Leave more time.  You'd be surprised how shorter journeys don't take very much longer; by the time you've queued to get out, waited at traffic lights, not been able to take short cuts, etc, sometimes you can arrive before others who have driven. On long journeys when you are using public transport, you can often use the time to catch up on all sorts of things from reading and thinking to planning or just feeling relaxed because you aren't having to contend with busy roads and (frequently) nutty drivers ;)

Could you consider being a one car household?

Of course being a one car household is a first world problem. We (well John) still owns a car, but we're trying to limit its use too.  Around 95% of my car dependent work is with John and for that we travel together.  For the other 5%, he has agreed to lend me his car if he's not working, or I shall hire a car if he is.

We cannot be a totally car-free household yet as our music jobs are not 9 to 5 and public transport for this is out of the question - either in terms of the equipment we need to carry, or to get to the majority of locations, especially during the hours we need.

Could you be car-free with regular working hours?

Many, many people do work regular hours and could get to work by walking, cycling, using public transport or sharing lifts with others.  Here are two sites that you can join free blablacar and lift share.  Once signed up, you can post lifts (as a driver) or request them (as a passenger).  The driver is paid a designated fee and an unnecessary car journey is prevented as well as everyone saving money, so it's a win-win situation.

There are lots of people who work at the same place, at the same times, come from the same area, (sometimes the same street), but drive separately.  It's madness.

I set up a company car share and it had some great results, reducing the number of cars on the road and saving people considerable money every year.  One group of three found a lay-by that they could meet in, if the others weren't there by a certain time, then they could go ahead.  This meant that they didn't have to worry about sending messages to each other.

There are also companies where you can hire cars and bikes from private individuals: car plus bike plus.

Tips to help reduce car journeys

Partly in preparation for giving up my car, for the last two or three years I've been keeping a diary of our car journeys.  With the date on the left, if I went somewhere in the car I would write either the destination or the activity (e.g. gig), in pink.  If John went anywhere it would be in blue and if we travelled together, I'd write it in purple.  If I/we went somewhere but were given a lift, I'd put brackets around it.

Comme ça:

The blanks are car free days :)

For those of you who are concerned about the stereotypical colours, please rest assured that I do any wood chopping and fire-type activities and John does all of the ironing.

Back to the car journeys diary

Using a diary is a great way to keep a record of how often you use the car and also to see how many journeys you should possibly feel slightly ashamed of having made - those where you could have cycled, walked or at least lift-shared, but perhaps you didn't because it was a bit cold, wet etc.  I had a few of these myself, but the section I chose to share with you was a good one ;) However, not having a car will be an excellent way to make myself insist on using a method that is not just more environmentally friendly, but better for my physical and mental health too.  We were also able to review the diaries and say, 'yes we used two cars on that day, but if we had only had one then activity b could have taken place on an alternative date.'  In fact, there were only a very few situations where it was actually necessary to have two cars and these could have been overcome by hiring another vehicle.  Would this be expensive?  Not when you start adding the car tax, insurance, servicing, fuel, etc. together.

Giving up your car for environmental reasons

Of course each person and household has very different needs and views, some retired couples do almost everything together, where others don't.  Families and children have multiple activities in different places and of course sadly, much public transport is almost impossible for many with disabilities. Independence is also something that comes up a lot and again, this is where the diary comes in handy.  There's also the age old, once you have a car it's really hard to give it up, yet numerous people never own one in the first place.  My mum took a long time to give up her car even though she wasn't well enough to drive any longer and it was never used.  For me perhaps it will be easier, as I try to live each tentacle of my life in a way that I am most comfortable with from an eco perspective.  I suspect that some days will still be easier than others.  I do go to a lot of local events and meetings and it's quite sad that plenty of people attending these events (frequently regarding green issues) are often driving very short distances.

Looking at car driving from a different aspect

For two or more people to travel it can seem on the face of it to be more expensive than taking a car, (unless you're also paying for parking), but try not to forget that this is when there are at least two of you rather than when it's just you on your own making the trip and the majority of car journeys in England are still single occupancy: between 2002 and 2015, 60-61% of journeys were made by one person, see statistics.  I have a couple of friends who 'car pool' with other friends or members of their families living relatively near each other and mostly this works really well.  How many people jump in the car to go to the gym, or go running and then get in the car later in order to meet friends who are within walking distance?

Health reasons to cut down on driving

Apart from the bleeding obvious, there are also studies that suggest that pollution is worse inside cars (as drivers and passengers) than outside, here's just one example air pollution and cars.  The more of us who walk and cycle, the safer and healthier it will be. 

Planning journeys ahead when being car-free

Most of the journeys that I have already planned are either covered by travelling with others, or can be made by cycling or using public transport.

I will have to compromise sometimes, possibly not be able to go somewhere or rely on being able to stay over so that I can get back home the following day using public transport. If travelling with others, I will offer to contribute to their fuel costs and make it as easy as possible for them to pick me up, by walking or cycling to their house, or by arriving at a convenient pick-up point.

The benefits of parking when you don't drive

Parking for bicycles is free and nearly always more convenient than car parking.

It's greener to use local facilities

Staying local and using the facilities on your doorstep is greener, whether it's the cinema, shops, swimming pool or a local walk.  Why go further afield if it's unnecessary?  The local shop may cost a little more than the supermarket, but you won't have spent any money on wear and tear and fuel, or bought other things you didn't intend to, plus you will have supported a local business and possibly have taken some exercise.

Why compromise is often a green attribute

Many people who live green lifestyles are used to compromising, whether it's not buying something at all for ethical reasons, paying a little more to support local goods rather than 'cheaper' imports, or walking instead of taking the car because it's cold.  It can also be viewed as green if we take a step back from the all too often instantly gratifying convenience of a sometimes self-centred modern life.  Car sharing is a community activity, as are book, tool and toy libraries.  Perhaps some inconvenience in itself can be warmed up by green thoughts.

If I have to have a car, what are the greener options?

If things don't work out without a car, I can always get another one and if so, I would hope to buy an electric or hybrid car.
Undoubtedly by no longer owning a car, there will be occasions when it's not convenient, but I'm going to hope that these are far outweighed by the environmental bonuses.

How to drive in the greenest way possible

If you are going to drive, there are plenty of greener driving tips:

1. Firstly double check that you really need to drive, (see various tips above)!

2. Check your tyres every week. Not twice a year or just before you go on holiday. Every week.  It's safer and you use less fuel.  You can do this at most garages, but this does mean an extra turn on and off for the engine, even if you haven't gone there just for this.  A foot pump keeps you fitter too. Pump those tyres to the specification of your car.

3. Never sit with 'an idling' engine.  Switch it off when stationary.

4. Slow right down.  The motorway speed limit is 70mph, not 80mph as many people seem to think.  Try doing 55 or 60mph  and see how much fuel you save.  It's much safer too and oddly enough it gets you there in nearly the same time - think how often someone has roared past and then you've caught up at the traffic lights.

5. Think ahead and try not to brake sharply, this uses more fuel and is not as safe (recognise a theme here?)

6. Only carry what you need.  Heavy tools etc carried round with you will cost you more fuel and will take you longer to brake.

7. Here are plenty of other ideas from the professionals, green driving tips.

What is 'Dutch Reach' and how could it save lives?

If you open your car door by reaching across with your far hand, you'll turn your body and automatically look behind you as well as not swinging your car door fully open.  This is a highly beneficial way to not open your door onto a cyclist.  The lack of Dutch Reach is is also why cyclists often go down the middle of roads where there are lots of parked cars.

Every time you drive, please 'think bike'

Please give cyclists plenty of room - especially with all the pot holes!  Cyclists sometimes have to pull out to miss these.  Be patient, especially if it's cold and/or wet, you'll get a warm glow by doing the right thing.

Train stations
We have a station, approximately three miles from the town centre.  It can be reached using cycle paths and they have bike racks where you can lock up your bike.  There are buses which sometimes correspond with the trains too...

Think about reducing your car journeys

If you're not yet ready to join the car-free movement, hopefully you may at least give a little thought to possibly reducing the number of cars in your household or even if you have good reason to keep your car(s), perhaps you will at least consider using it/them a little less whenever possible.

Finally, next time you're in a traffic queue, remember this: "You are not stuck in traffic, you are the traffic."


  1. We went down to one car for 2 years, despite having 2 children with multiple activities to get to and living 4 miles from town and 7 from the train station. My husbands change of work means we now need 2 again which is disappointing but we remain better at avoiding unnecessary journeys than before and I’d do it again in a heartbeat


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