Skip to content
Musings on digital media, urbanization and politics from Seattle, Wash.

Not everyone can drive

And a lot of people don't want to.
February 8, 2023

Another person was hit and killed by a car in Seattle this week. An 80-year-old woman was struck in a crosswalk by a black van that never stopped.

Someone’s mom, probably someone’s grandma—her existence, ended. There are so many people feeling immense grief now, lives forever altered by this trauma.

And we, as a city and society, just keep doing things mostly the same. Even though this state, Washington, loses about two people per day to traffic violence.

Imagine if, every day, two passengers on planes departing from SeaTac were sucked out a window on takeoff.

We’d probably take that pretty seriously after, I don’t know, day one.

But when confronted with the idea we should take drastic action to improve the safety of walking or biking around, it’s met with “Well not everyone can bike.” or “Not everyone wants to try to carry all their groceries.”

The thing is, not everyone has a choice. I’m not trying to say the elderly woman struck and killed didn’t or couldn’t drive—but it’s certainly possible.

That’s one demographic less likely to travel by car. So too would many folks living with disabilities. Then there are people who just don’t have their license for one reason or another.

Per automotive marketing agency Hedges & Co., 15.9 percent of American adults don’t have a valid driver’s license.

Plus, there’s a clear trend here.

Setting aside the numbers on licenses, there’s an even greater number for which the math just doesn’t pencil out.

Even for drivers with their car already paid off, you’re looking at hundreds of dollars per month to drive when you factor in fuel and parking and insurance and registration and so on.

Americans spend 13 percent of their household income on transportation thanks to our car-centric setup, per the Institute for Transportation & Development Policy.

That number becomes increasingly more burdensome as you move down the socioeconomic spectrum.

This chart, again, from the ITDP.


From their report: “In 2016, in the US, the lowest earning 20% of the population earned an average of $11,933, and spent an average of $3497 (29%) on transportation costs.”

There’s a huge swath of the population for which driving is either impossibly expensive, poverty-inducing or both.

To top it all off, driving sucks.

When was your last fun drive? Not a road trip, the best moments of which are outside a car, but like a drive around town?

And when was your last bad drive? The last time you were frustrated the entire time—or annoyed most of it because you were stressing about traffic or parking? Pretty common.

Though 83 percent of American adults drive frequently, according to a 2018 Gallup poll, only one in three actually enjoy it a great deal.

We can do a lot better. And while we can make the choice to not drive more enticing, it’s enticing enough already for many people—and for some, it isn’t a choice at all.

So while you may say “Not everyone wants to do that,” well, that comes back the other way, too.

And for the folks inside the car, the stakes aren’t as high as an elderly woman paid in a crosswalk on Capitol Hill.

Posted in: