UCL News


Drive for fun, not for need

5 February 2008

Green groups might make more headway if they advised motorists to drive only for pleasure, rather than only when absolutely necessary, according to Professor Iain Borden of the UCL Bartlett School of Architecture.

Speaking today at a UCL Lunch Hour Lecture in London, Professor Borden warns that ignoring the cultural reasons why people like to drive can undermine efforts to encourage people to use more public transport.

"If we are to deal with the problems of congestion and pollution, we must consider the pleasures of driving as a way of understanding why people will not simply abandon their cars, even when affordable and efficient public transport becomes available," says Professor Borden in his talk, 'The Pleasures of Driving'.

"Instead of the functionalist approach to discouraging car driving - by stating that car journeys should only be made when absolutely essential - we could argue the reverse, that car driving should never be essential, never be necessary; rather, driving should only be undertaken as a form of pleasure."

In the UCL Lunch Hour Lecture today, Professor Borden explores changes in car culture over the last few decades.

"Today, it is very much in people's everyday lives that the city car operates, offering them freedom, pride, independence, self-expression, and allowing them to negotiate the conflicts within their lives. For example, the SUV (sports utility vehicle) helps young parents reconcile the "uncool" drudgery of childcare and family life with the "cool" and exciting ideas of leisure and outdoor adventure.

"Driving is the challenge of the city to the self, and hence the ability of the driver not just to survive but to thrive within it. As one US commentator said in 1949, at the wheel, many an American tends to transform himself into a god.

"And this is why some drivers enjoy illegal high-speed racing on city roads, from Japan's night-time racing to the centre of Paris. The potential for accidents and injury and, more importantly, the ability to control and avoid such accidents, are part of the demanding pleasure of driving.

"Driving is often seen as more satisfying than train journeys, for it brings the driver to the edge of himself or herself. Like skiing, skateboarding, surfing and other extreme sports, in high-speed driving danger is neither denied nor celebrated, but is instead confronted. Some, of course, have actively sought accidents. JG Ballard and Andy Warhol, for instance, explored car crashes as events of eroticism, mediation and repetition.

"Curiously, despite what seems to be the inevitable drive of consumer capitalism towards more roads and more road signs, this may not be the future of signage in cities. New kinds of signless road intersections are being introduced in Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, UK and the US.

"Here, traffic lights, stop signs, road lines and other instructions have been removed from traffic intersections to create 'psychological traffic calming', slowing traffic by removing instructions to drivers, allowing eye contact to occur, and hence getting drivers and pedestrians to self-regulate their speeds and trajectories. Although obviously not suitable for all roads, this vision implies a new kind of city, one more aesthetically pleasing and which generates more responsible and sociable road users - no longer sign-watching zombies but instead alert, attentive, people-aware citizens."

Notes for Editors

1. For more information, please contact Professor Iain Borden on +44 (0)20 7679 4821, e-mail i.borden@ucl.ac.uk.

2. Alternatively, please contact Jenny Gimpel in the UCL Media Relations Office on tel: +44 (0)20 7679 9726, mobile: +44 (0)7747 565 056, out of hours +44 (0)7917 271 364, e-mail: j.gimpel@ucl.ac.uk.

3. 'The Pleasures of Driving' UCL Lunch Hour Lecture is on Tuesday 5 February 2008 at 1.15pm in the Darwin Lecture Theatre, Darwin Building, University College London, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT.

4. The full listing of UCL Lunch Hour Lectures for Spring 2008 can be found at http://www.ucl.ac.uk/lhl/.