Giving up my car

what happens when the wheels come off… for good

Air pollution is the largest environmental risk factor linked to deaths in England and it’s a problem all over the UK. Cars on our roads are a major contributor to this pollution. The Director of BHF Scotland has recently given up his car and lived to tell the tale…

I didn’t have a car until I was in my 30s. I’d spend too much time studying, playing rugby and in the pub afterwards to be able to afford one. And then I found myself in London where my flat didn’t have enough room to swing a cat, let alone a motor. I did indulge the daft laddie option of a motorbike for a few years. A stunning Honda that was used as a toy to race the low flying jets around the Scottish glens.

But then came parenthood, the move to sleepy Dunblane, and a car. I promised that as a parent I’d never touch a motorbike again. I haven’t and I won’t. Too much fun. Too tempting to overtake just because you can. Too likely I’d end up brown breid…

Fifteen years later and I’m now car-less again.

My first ever new car was a lovely Nissan Qashqai (I bought it on a part-ownership scheme called PCP). I got it just before I joined the BHF and just before we knew the true impact of diesel cars on pollution. It played on my mind for the three years I, sort of, owned it. I felt even worse when I read that my innocent-looking wee car was one of the worst polluters when ‘real world’ data was considered.

So would it be back to petrol? A costly hybrid? Electric with the hope of finding a charging point in the wilds of Perthshire?

Actually I handed it back with no replacement.

Two months in, how am I finding it? I was worried, I’ll admit that. I went through every rare journey I’d taken over the last decade and a half and said “what if?” My reality is that the station is 10 minutes’ walk away and my work is split mainly between Edinburgh and London and there’s no way I’m driving that distance. I’d barely scratched my 15,000 permitted miles in my final year of driving. And I decided that if I needed a car I could hire one for the weekend. For occasional trips, like to watch my boy play footie, I could cadge a lift.

So far, so straightforward. I’m coping.

The one key change is that I’m substantially reducing my contribution to air pollution. Yes, I can no longer get to the airport in time for the red eye flights to London, but it’s actually giving me a better work-life balance and I’m more active now. I do miss driving. I really like driving. But I’m not missing paying close to £400 in total every month for something that spent about 97% of its life sitting as an ornament and occasional perch for the neighbours’ cat.

I’m not saying it’s possible for everyone. I know my kids’ age, my job and good train links now make it an option for me in a way it previously wasn’t and it may not be in the future. But for now, it’s really manageable. And it’s not given me ‘the fear’ as I dreaded it might.

Our research shows that some of the harmful fragments of pollution from cars can be up to a 1000 times smaller than the width of a strand of hair. Small enough, once breathed in, to enter your bloodstream. These nanoparticles, once in the blood, can accumulate in diseased blood vessels, making them more likely to rupture and cause a heart attack or stroke.

We’re calling for WHO guidelines on the allowable levels of these tiny particles to be made part of UK law. Most parts of the UK are polluted at levels well above what we know is safe, and we are pushing Governments across the UK to do more, now.

Watch this (parking) space…

Read about Faiza’a personal battle with pollution:

Pollution is personal: Faiza’s battle to clear the air

Giving up my car was originally published in British Heart Foundation on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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