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Is driving the new smoking? (Jupiterimages/www.jupiterimages.com)
Is driving the new smoking? (Jupiterimages/www.jupiterimages.com)

Drive, She Said

When it comes to driving, one size does not fit all Add to ...

Is driving the new smoking?

It seems to be heading that way.

Everybody knows a former smoker who has so embraced their newfound health and anticipated longevity that they can't help but become not just happy non-smokers, but virulent anti-smokers.

Part of it stands to reason: if you've made a life-changing decision that has reinvented you, you want to share. You want to help. You want to preach. And it's fine until you finally max out people who don't want to attend spin classes, go vegan, move off the grid, start kick boxing or host sell-jewellery-at-home parties.

I've noticed a tsunami of abuse in many discussions that involve moving people around. The problem is that we typically only hear from the extremes of all the various camps. If someone points out to an avid cyclist that Canada has, er, snow, they promptly declare that you can kit your bike out with snow tires. If you note you can't arrive at work all sweaty, you're a fool for not taking a shower when you get there.

If it is strategically impossible for me to navigate my job without a car, I should just change jobs. If I live in the suburbs, I'm an idiot and should move downtown. If a bus route leaves off half my commute, I should just put my bike on the rack provided and quit whining. If I have a couple of kids to trundle along with me in the morning, I should remember that kids are too fat these days and should cycle or walk with me.

There's a fun pecking order to this hierarchy. The mid-sized CUV trumps the oversized SUV; the two-door beats the four-door; the subcompact beats the compact; transit beats them all, and the bicycle beats transit. Pedestrians should actually be at the top of the food chain, but if you've ever been clipped by a cyclist, hit by a car or tried to get cat litter home, it's hard to feel triumphant at times.

I love driving. I always have. Why would I apologize for something that has been part of the bedrock of North American culture for more than a century? Start naming songs about cars – you'll never get them all. Movies, television, family memories, your first car, dad's last car, the scary rental, the tickets, the freedom, the costs, the best car ever and the worst mistake.

I'm hardly breaking new ground here. My grandfather, born in 1898, had more than one car. It's not really notable that generations that came after him followed suit, nor is it evil. I drive a car; I didn't invent meth.

We're changing. The industry has never stopped changing. Remember the first Prius? It's positively old school now, as the race for fuel efficiency has manufacturers exploiting new technologies and making all of us take a hard look at the very thing so many take for granted: driving.

Call me difficult, but the best conversations stem from people who share how they've made incremental changes to their lifestyle. Car-free weekends, transit for work, smaller cars, carpooling, bikes for the whole family.

Telling me a Smart car will get my family to the cottage isn't helpful (I love Smarties, but they won't), but reminding people they could probably pack far lighter is. I don't recall my parents hauling around all the baby crap many parents do today. Then again, I chewed on windowsills covered in lead paint and ate dirt in the backyard, so what do I know?

I don't know many smokers, but I do know there are fewer and fewer places they can smoke. I am selfishly okay with this. I wish you didn't smoke. But I'm also detecting the other shoe dropping: people who have purchased electric cars gleefully hopping onto message boards to declare they are driving for free (they're not), and the somehow acceptable bashing of anyone who drives something bigger than a thimble, if they're still driving at all. We're the new smokers.

My kid smiles and shakes his head at a Hummer that has been occupying a used-car lot near our house for about 18 months. During the last big gas spike, I read people were running around buying up such vehicles cheaply, confident they would make a great profit when gas dropped again. It worked once (oh, how our ether-like memories work), but I doubt it will work again.

Naming cars is tough for companies. They want to get across a range of emotion, make a statement, and stand out for the right reasons.

I'm just waiting for the launch of the new Smug.


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