By on June 14, 2018

2017 Subaru Impreza driving, Image: Subaru

Yesterday’s questionable study regarding self-driving cars — in which the authors foresee a veritable utopia brought on by ultra-efficient, humanless robot cars — inspired the usual twinge of nausea in this author. Beware of any study that gleefully brushes aside massive job losses in certain sectors in order to tout increases in others. It’s usually the work of a zealot or someone who stands to bolster their personal wealth.

In this case, it also stands to separate you from the tactile experience of driving. Yes, there’s plenty of people who would gladly turn over their commute duties to an array of sensors and a digital brain — I think we’d all prefer that in stop-and-go situations — but if future roadways require a complete absence of human drivers in order to hit peak efficiency, we’d also be giving up the ability to de-stress. Driving means different things to different people. For some, it’s therapy.

Just how much of your driving is non-essential?

In a 2001 interview, new wave artist Gary Numan described the inspiration for his 1979 hit Cars, which appears in my YouTube suggested playlist on an almost daily basis. (The man doesn’t get the credit he deserves.)

Cars came about, Numan said, after he drove onto a sidewalk to escape a road rage incident. Presumably, once all cars dispense with their human driver, we’ll have no more instances of this. Let’s hope so, as there’s no way those law-abiding vehicles will take the initiative to remove us from a dangerous situation by any means possible.

“It explains how you can feel safe inside a car in the modern world, which is probably why you get things like road rage,” Numan said. “When you’re in it, you’re whole mentality is different, in a car. It’s like your own little personal empire with four wheels on it.”

Let’s put aside rage and focus on more positive feelings. Joy, contentment, or maybe just something better than you’re feeling right now. I’ll admit that much of my driving is non-essential, even though the trip usually starts with some random errand. Sometimes you just drive because you can — and if you’re doing anything, you’re doing it for a reason.

Whether it’s taking the long way home from work, grabbing a coffee and going on a Sunday morning cruise to nowhere, or just ditching the house or apartment for a turn behind the wheel, warm air buffeting your face, streetlight reflections dancing over the windshield, driving can ease tension, clear thoughts, and generally make life more livable. You’re connected to the world, but also able to escape it. This won’t be the case when every vehicle is a taxi.

So, what’s your take? Do you find driving to be as therapeutic as this writer? And what happens to our collective health when Big Tech, Big Auto, and Big Government wrestle the steering wheel from our hands?

[Image: Subaru]

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41 Comments on “QOTD: Is the Road Your Prescription?...”

  • avatar
    Pesky Varmint

    I’ve always enjoyed driving.

    But must admit that I enjoy it much less in the inner city.

    But give me an open road and step aside car, this job is mine.

    With regard to self driving cars a fellow engineer was arguing how good they can be what with the plethora of sensors. My counterpoint was that the code is written by a human.

  • avatar

    In the past it sure used to be. Drive and burn gas all day long!

    Not anymore because you can’t get away from traffic and annoying drivers who ride your bumper because they want to go 1 mph faster than you, even though you are pushing the speed limit. I’m talking about secondary roads, not highways.

    Also, those empty roads you see in commercials just don’t exist near urban areas, and no one is going to close a road just for me so I can motor along at my own pace, enjoying the scenery and taking it all in. Plus, with only one good eye, which is still in healing process, what little I do drive right now, I can’t afford to take it off the road for a second! One day, perhaps, but not now.

  • avatar

    Probably once or twice a month I’ll go out driving for a couple hours just for myself, not including instrumental driving like road trips or going to the store or whatever. Changing cars to something more interesting brought that amount of driving up big time, but even when I had a mediocre sedan I still went out and drove around aimlessly from time to time.

  • avatar

    I love to, but then I’m an introvert at heart and so it recharges me.

    Take the 67 Mustang, a cigar, the big plastic manual steering in my hands, and burn some hydrocarbons.

    I want my next daily driver to inspire a little back-road wandering. I haven’t had anything that fit that category in a while.

    I’ve got the radio blastin’
    I’ve got the windows rolled down
    And I’m cruisin’ these backroads
    On the outskirts of town
    I can feel the wind a-blowin’
    Hear the big engines whine
    When I’m cruisin’ these backroads
    All my troubles are behind – Ricky Van Shelton

    • 0 avatar

      I’m also an introvert by nature. A nice solo drive is great for the soul. That is probably one reason why I love motorcycles. You can go for a “group” ride and still have “solo” time. I’ll go for drives to clear my head or mull over ideas but since driving is the core process, one can let one’s subconscious work out the background noise of the day.

      Recently I was coming back from Vancouver Island and chose “Duffy Lake” as opposed to the freeway through Vancouver. Even though I was in my pickup, it felt right.
      Funny thing was this: I passed multiple sporting cars on the way to Lillooet. I was eventually passed by a lady in a Ford Edge. It was definitely a “driver’s road”. I was tempted to pull over and unload my new DRZ400SM but as Bob Seger sang,”Well those drifters days are past me now, I’ve got so much more to think about,Deadlines and commitments,What to leave in, what to leave out.”
      I should have pulled over. I could have phoned in sick for work the next day!

  • avatar

    In terms of miles driven, most of my driving is pleasure driving. I live about 3 miles from work, and walk there most of the time, and also live close enough to the grocery store/library/bookstore that I walk there most of the time, too–when New Hampshire decides to grace me with good weather.

    However, I find that most of longer drives are spontaneous and have no timeframe. I’ll drive an hour and a half to go for a hike up in the White Mountains, or a little under an hour to get to the beaches on the Atlantic, generally leaving at whatever time of day the mood strikes…and then sometimes just driving to those places without doing much there. Point is, my actions are more or less without long-term consequence, and that’s the only kind of freedom that there actually is.

    I’ll drive through my childhood hometown, the next town down, just for the nostalgia of it all, relishing the fact that usually, I’m out and about when everyone else isn’t, and so the rolling roads of the Merrimack Valley suburban sprawl are fairly empty. Cruise control is my constant companion, and fortunately my only one. My life is pretty solitary, so to feel the solitude pay off in the anesthetized experience of controlling so many aspects of my environment, without being totally isolated from the chaos outside, is a weirdly cathartic form of superficial self-actualization.

    • 0 avatar

      @aquaticko: Lots of great twisty back roads in the area North of Rt. 128 and East of 93 in the Northeastern corner of Massachusetts. I like to drive those roads too. Sometimes stopping at farmstands like Smolak’s or heading to Essex for some clams. River Rd. in Topsfield is one of my favorites. Following the roads along the Merrimack is nice too.

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    Oh heck yes!

    Even with moderate amounts of traffic, I find a drive to be quite therapeutic.

  • avatar

    Recently purchased a low mileage NB Miata. It is used primarily for fun obviously. If I can work in some utility to my drives that’s just a bonus. One of the advantages to living in western NY where policy has been driving out wage earners for decades is lots of secondary roads with light traffic. Dodging potholes is both necessary and fun in the Miata.

    • 0 avatar

      Also from WNY. Good analysis! about how govt policies driving younger people out of upstate have made the roads less busy. (On the other hand the driver ahead of you tends to be older and slower.) I lived and worked on the coasts for many years but once again enjoy driving the roads of my youth.

  • avatar

    Honestly, It has depended on the car and when. About 12-14 years ago, I finally had the means to buy a BMW M Roadster. I loved that car and would take it out just to drive. It was quick, capable, and fun. When I was in Chicago, I took my 911 out often just for the fun of it, and I always looked for the long way home.

    Now that I’m in Northern VA, my new race bike (bicycle) is usually how I get out. I do love to be behind the wheel, but it is exhausting here and thre is no quick escape to back roads here.

    • 0 avatar

      I got a pretty nice road bike (bicycle) recently, too, and I’m hoping that – if traffic gets bad and I live in place where a car is not feasible – I can jump over to some extended road biking trips. Having a very light bike with quick steering makes biking very exciting.

    • 0 avatar

      Never underestimate the joy of a good road bike. Or the benefits. Happily the Richmond/Ashland area has lots of roads away from traffic where you can enjoy it. And the biggest joy of all about cycling is that, unless you’re sporting Tour de France fitness, the age of the bike absolutely doesn’t matter. I’ve had so much fun on my 50’s-70’s road bikes that three years ago I sold everything with brifters off.

      And I haven’t missed them. Steel lugged frames, five speed rear clusters and downtube shifters are my preferred way to go.

  • avatar

    Contentment describes it exactly. I’ve rediscovered the joy of random cruising that I enjoyed so much when I was younger. I have a comfortable car with a good stereo that I like, and scenic places to drive, even in the ‘burbs.

    Most times I have to take my little boys with, and the rule in Dad’s car is no electronic games etc. I hope they learn to enjoy rolling around just for kicks like I did.

  • avatar

    Yup. I’m fortunate that I live in one suburban community and work in another, so in either case I’m usually not more than 5 minutes from some fairly empty country roads. Many, many times during the summer I’ll choke down a sandwich for lunch and spend 45 minutes driving around to de-stress. Similarly, after I put the kids to bed I frequently tell my wife I’m going for a drive. I wish that I had the time to go for a 2-3 hour Sunday drive, but those little 30-45 minute breaks where it’s just me, my car, and my thoughts are absolutely priceless.

  • avatar

    The great majority of my driving is essential, more than 90% I’d suppose. But I’ve spent the past few years, little-by-little transforming my reliable, economical commuter car into a reliable, economical commuter car that drives like a go-kart. I even left it beige/champagne!

    So I’ve made the essential enjoyable/therapeutic. and it helps that I have plenty of alternate routes and country roads between the essential destinations.

  • avatar

    I live in downtown Philly, and almost none of my driving is for pleasure. Indeed, very little of it is pleasurable at all, because of congestion, poor roads, etc. It’s often a nightmare.

    But I do take advantage of great driving roads when I can. For example, my business partner lives on a wonderful back road in the suburbs, so I make sure most of our meetings are out there, partly so I can enjoy the drive. Also, I’ll frequently ditch the highway in favor of the winding roads along the banks of the Schuylkill river, which can be fun. Problem is, they’re so fast and fun that they’re incredibly dangerous with some traffic, especially in the rain. (One of my neighbors paid the ultimate price when someone in the opposing lane lost control in the rain on MLK Drive, and I barely missed something similar a few years ago.)

    Then, when I visit my parents, I usually take some time driving the back roads in my home town, which is where I developed my love of agile, great-handling cars.

  • avatar

    I’m retired with the occasional trip to the supermarket, doctor, dentist, etc. being my only essential driving. I drive for the hell of it, a couple hours a day, whatever way the wind blows, more or less. Sometimes to relax, sometimes to stand on the gas and blow the carbon out of my hemi. I have better audio in my car than I do in the house too, that plays a role sometimes as well. Sometimes I take my dog, I play ‘Absolute Garbage’, she knows all the songs. One time I put on Alice In Chains and she barfed, quite the insult to Layne Staley, lol.

  • avatar

    I like driving back roads and in rural areas for leisure. It’s one of my pastimes, just going out and taking in the scenery somewhere and taking pictures of it all.

    I hate commuting. Though compared to other areas, the Utah Valley isn’t nearly as bad on its worst day.

  • avatar

    Most of my driving these days is necessary. But I enjoy it immensely and may take the long way home. I live 20 miles from the nearest town, so trips are scheduled, otherwise I would be filling up every day. And I admit that I schedule some trips purely as a recreational outlet when I feel the need- the need for driving .

  • avatar

    I leave shortly for a European trip that will include driving from Vienna through Austria to Berchtesgaden, Hitler’s mountain retreat in Bavaria. In August, we will take our grandson to France and Switzerland on a trip that will likely include going over the Col du Galibier and the original cobblestone route over Gotthard Pass. Whenever it snows heavily or we have an ice storm, we take the back roads out to our favorite burger restaurant about 15 miles away – just for the deserted and beautiful winter scenery.

    As long as I am able (currently 73 and driving a Fiesta ST), I don’t see stopping these pleasures.

  • avatar

    “Yes, there’s plenty of people who would gladly turn over their commute duties to an array of sensors and a digital brain . . . .”

    Suggested reading for the associate editor:

  • avatar

    I read car blogs and media mostly out of habit, and a general interest in the industry, but I’m not longer an enthusiast per se. My driving is mostly out of necessity not pleasure. It will become therapeutic when I fully complete my cycle of life towards old-mandom. My next car will be a Buick or Lexus to relax me and insulate me from the cares of the world of idiots outside. I recently acquired my first recliner (custom ordered! leather and power! USB port!) so the old man car is my next milestone. Now get off my lawn.

    • 0 avatar

      I have an uncle who’s a definite car guy, a now-retired mechanic who had a beautifully maintained ’70 Corvette for many years. Two or three years ago, he bought a nice ’12-ish LaCrosse. He thought my overt interest in it was an attempt at mocking him, but I was like, “No way, this is becoming my favorite sector of the market.” Performance cars are great, but you can’t necessarily exploit their strengths on public roads. On the other hand, full size sedans truly shine on an all-day road trip. And while they’re not at their best in traffic that’s moving, they’re also great–with the notable exception of fuel economy–in traffic that’s not moving.

  • avatar

    I’m often asked, “why don’t you fly to xxxxtown rather than drive. It would be so much quicker?”

    I could write a book about my airplane experience many years ago, but really, that has nothing to do with why I prefer to drive long distance, even for business, than fly or take alternate transportation.

    I love cars, and I love driving…always have, even from early childhood, sitting behind the wheel in my mom’s car taking the imaginary 12 mile trip to grandma’s farm in the country, or even driving the 1 mile trip to elementary school.

    My first trip to California from KY came at 18 years old, driving with a friend and sharing the driving duties as we traveled. Subsequently, I lived there for 5 years, and made numerous trips on my own between the two states, and never, ever felt stressed, even though a couple of those trips early on meant naps in the car, and gas station wash cloth baths.

    My police career began in 1966, and I had a mostly rural beat. In terms of driving, I could put upwards of 200 miles per shift on my cruiser, call and contact dependent. That career lasted nearly 30 years, although the latter part was mostly administrative. Still, I worked special assignments that required driving, and that was indeed a joyous release of stressful admin duty. (I was the fleet commander of 500 plus police take home units and everything fleet related came through my office)

    As luck would have it, shortly after retiring my spouse was transferred to DFW, and several trips between TX and KY ensued after that. It was a pleasurable trip, although it got old traveling interstates, so I found alternate routes that took me through small cotton towns, and villages, and used the interstates only when there was a necessity to meet a deadline. I continue to make those trips visiting family and friends, and I find much pleasure and relaxation…unfortunately, my lovely spouse doesn’t, so for me it’s pleasure, for her it’s a task.

    Living in the DFW area I have rather quick access to back roads and country settings. I tell my wife I’m going for a drive, and if I’m gone for more than an hour or so, I will call her to let her know where I am. I make that call quite often as I get caught up in the serenity, the scenery, and the exhaust notes. At the ripe old age of 75, I still autocross, tow a trailer and car to distant venues, do most of my own work, and enjoy the thing I used to dream about sitting behind the wheel of mom’s Oldsmobile, while never leaving the driveway…

    • 0 avatar

      I absolutely agree. I hate flying, love driving. When I go out west to visit, I’d absolutely cancel the trip if I must take it by air. 3 days on the road is pure enjoyment, especially when I click the “avoid highways” feature on Google Maps.

      The last time I flew to Seattle, I swore I’d never board a plane again except in an emergency. I bought a wrecked-but-driveable Honda to drive back.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m in the “rather drive than fly” camp too, especially if it’s under 1000 miles. Fortunately in semi-rural Oregon there’s no shortage of uncrowded scenic roads. Just picked up my first motorcycle in 20 years to explore them, I’d forgotten how exhausting riding is compared to driving. Or maybe I’m getting old. Naw, that can’t be it.

    • 0 avatar

      +3, I find it very pleasurable to do 500 or fewer miles on US or state highways.

      Interstates are less enjoyable, but I don’t mind them if there’s not much traffic. And that 500 miles can go up considerably if the car is comfortable and quiet.

      Daylight driving is far preferable too, though an overnight trip can be useful in avoiding big-city traffic snarls.

  • avatar

    Depression, frustration, whatever has me feeling down, a nice drive in the country seems to be the cure.

    I do want to get something with a manual, like a Honda, to better enjoy those drives. Even with the Taurus, its therapeutic to take a drive and clear my head, think things through and gain better perspective on whatever is troubling me.

    A song like “Runnin’ down a dream” by Tom Petty really complements the drive.

  • avatar

    My wife referred to our Miata as “Four Wheeled Therapy.” A couple of times a month I like to get into the hills near our house, and a couple of times a year I’ll try to get lost in the hills of Northern Kentucky.

    We’ve found a lot of fun little towns and great restaurants just by getting a little lost, and by staying away from the interstate.

    Favorite driving song: “Steve McQueen” by Sheryl Crow

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    A link to an article by the wondrous Lorraine Sommerfeld, who often writes about the importance of her childhood weekend drives with her father.

  • avatar

    If it’s Friday, Saturday or Sunday my driving is for pleasure. And 95% of the time its on a motorcycle. Happily, I still live an area where the back roads are interesting, twisty, and reasonably free of traffic. But the bike is what makes the difference. It even makes riding north on I-95 thru the Springfield Mixing Bowl almost tolerable.


    After 42 years on two wheels, cars have become tools for me. Period. Which is why I’ve got no problem having a Kia Sedona as my only car. It gets the job done. And when I want to play, there’s the Triumph/Harley/Honda ready to go.

  • avatar

    Most days, I’d have to drive about an hour in any direction before I could even hope to escape traffic, and even then, the closest rural roads tend to be ruler-straight bores. It’s hard to find any driving that isn’t aggressively aggravating, and once I reach that point, there’s still not much reward out of it. It does change a little though, if I’ve borrowed something different to try out (a little perk of my job), or I’m on vacation in another area.

    That said, it’s an 8km bike ride for me to get to work, and half of that is through a park, which makes for a pretty pleasant commute.

  • avatar

    Back when I was in college and had all the time in the world, sure. My buddies and I would probably burn a tank of gas going to and running around the street races in Brooklyn, camping out at the McDonalds on Linden Blvd between runs.

    Now, with 2 jobs, a wife and an infant, HA. The most I might do is a run to Walmart, but since I had to replace the G with something more pedestrian even that’s no go. The last time I rode my motorcycle was last September I believe- the day after a track day. I caught a flat on it, took months to fix it and still haven’t ridden it. I’ve definitely reached the point where I’m not getting behind the wheel of a car unless I have to, especially after totalling my G at the track.

    Besides, there are karting tracks and I have a sim racing rig- both of which I seem to use less and less these days. I’ve done about all I want with cars- I find it much more fascinating to follow the auto industry. My time is better spent elsewhere.

  • avatar

    Pleasure driving is a LOT of what I do….that’s why I own the car that I have. Relatively freed up backroads are doable in the Portland area, even if its traffic is a total hellscape. Windows down, hard rock cranked, letting my uncorked Hemi sound off as I’m hammering around at well over the legal limit…Yup, theres NO WAY I’m giving that up in this lifetime. Sure, Ill hail an autonomous box to deal with the downtown drudgery…especially if I’m going to a brewfest, concert, celebrating a birthday, etc. I don’t want to deal with parking or get a DUI so in that respect, having the OPTION to ride is a nice thing. But it will NEVER be forced upon me.

  • avatar

    I am 63. Own a 94 Miata R-Package that is now out of DD status. I’ve been thinking of selling it. Last weekend after two months of not driving it I had a wonderful hour or so driving the twisting two lane roads through the Santa Ana Mountains. Now, I’m thinking I’ll keep it.
    My 26-year-old daughter who shares an apartment in a foot-friendly neighborhood in LA, hasn’t had a car in over a year. She recently told me that she misses her car. She craves the convenience, forgets the hassles of parking it but I was surprised to hear her say what she missed most of all was just having a portable personal space to call her own. A haven if you will, for a break at work or during a shopping trip or out on a hike.

  • avatar

    Driving is good to recharge your batteries and get a bit of therapy time, but it’s much more than that. Driving is a part of determinism as consumers and autonomous life forms. Though the cost of these activities is quite high, the benefits are even more rich. Turning over our ability to transport ourselves from A to B, and to conduct business or pleasure along the way is pure folly. People often scoff at such claims because public transportation can be economically efficient, but public transit works because the automobile is always looming in the background, forcing public officials not to corrupt the system.

    Allowing autonomously driven vehicles to control our mobility will alter everything about transportation. Navigation companies will control how the vehicle drives. Automobiles will be less of a check on public transit because their operation will be centrally controlled. We will be paying large sums of money to perform a task we can already perform, and the time savings will likely be spent on leisure, which means consumers are doubly worse off. The government will also creep into the picture by holding navigation companies or car builders responsible for the illicit acts of their customers. Uncle Sam will argue for backdoors to take control over any vehicle or shut it down remotely. If left unchecked, your vehicle will drive you to the nearest courthouse to pay traffic citations before the vehicle will let you go anywhere else. Computerized decision-making for various moral hazards, like an imminent crash, are no longer governed by the operator, which means you could literally buy a car that is programmed to kill you rather than kit a litter of kittens in the road.

    The potential for bad far outweighs individual benefits. It’s just another technological Pandora’s box, but people will inevitably fall for it, just as they have let telecommunications and social media companies surveil them 24/7 without any pushback.

  • avatar

    “It’s usually the work of a zealot or someone who stands to bolster their personal wealth.”

    Just to let you know, this is where I stopped reading.

  • avatar

    Some of what you mention, Steph, must be what motivated my dad. He worked for the Soil Conservation Service and knew many of the farmers in our county. When I was a kid he would randomly choose to take the whole family for “a car ride” – usually on a Sunday late afternoon/early evening. We would go basically nowhere in particular, winding down gravel roads or blacktop with my dad mentioning who lived where or some work he had done at this farm or that. Often we would end up at a Dairy Queen or a local dairy named Boyd’s for an ice cream treat. Then home we would go. That rubbed off on me a bit. When I was younger I would hop in the car and just head out. We have a multitude of nicely paved roads in the middle of nowhere with very sparse traffic. Crank the 8-track, roll down the windows, drive 10 under and just enjoy the ride, not seeing another vehicle for several miles. It never felt like a waste and I got to see a lot of the area I may have never seen before.

    Even when my sons were young, when we would go someplace I would take a less direct route many times to “explore” and see new things. Relaxing and something I miss from time to time. Gas prices being what they are now – along with my wage being what it is – I don’t do this much as I cannot afford the cost. Someday that may change – who knows.

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