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Going for a drive isn’t unsafe. But you still shouldn’t do it

By Alex Inwood, 07 Apr 2020 Opinion

Going for a drive isn’t unsafe. But you still shouldn’t do it

Going for a drive is no riskier than getting a coffee, but there's another reason to stay home

So the police are fining people for going for a drive. It’s something I feared might happen (it was a little unclear where ‘going for a drive’ fell in Australia’s fast-evolving COVID-19 legislation) and now that it has, it made me irrationally angry.

I felt indignant. Shocked; as though this was one too many freedoms of which I’d been robbed. For me, it was the final straw.

Perhaps it was because the police were having a field day. And they seemed to be relishing it. In Victoria, the coppers completed 983 spot checks and handed out 108 fines in 24 hours for ‘non-essential travel’, slapping motorists with massive $1652 infringements. Nine News reports that one officer told an offending motorist they were “smashing it on the roads today”.

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It just seemed so illogical. I’m not talking about that group of 150-plus enthusiasts who were stung in Queensland for holding a car meet in a cul-de-sac. That I can understand. Mixing in large groups is irresponsible. No, I’m talking about people like the Victorian learner driver who was fined for going for a drive with her mum. How does handing that family a $1652 fine help stop the spread of COVID-19?

And why can’t I get out of the house and go for a drive by myself? Who could I possibly hurt by hopping in my car, alone, and going for a cruise over my favourite piece of tarmac to clear my head? If I don’t stop, or refuel, or interact with anyone else, then there’s no way I can be infected. Or infect anyone else. Ironically, the riskiest moment would likely be speaking to a police officer if I’m pulled over.

Think about it. What’s riskier? Going for a drive, or ducking into Coles to battle the crowds as people rush to grab the last stalk of broccoli from the shelf? Social distancing laws seem marginal in these shops. The last time I ducked out for milk, two people brushed against me. Enforce that, not some poor mum giving her L-plater daughter a driving lesson.

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Then there’s the issue of refuelling. This is championed as proof that going for a drive is irresponsible, but how is handling a fuel bowser and then waving my credit over an EFTPOS machine any riskier than waiting in line for a coffee or dropping my kids off a childcare, both of which are perfectly legal?

Yes, there are some unlikely situations that might bring me into contact with others, like a mechanical failure or worse, an accident, but again, I doubt the stats on the likelihood of these are any higher than slipping over during my morning run and breaking my ankle.

But here’s the thing. If you really try, you could justify pretty much any activity as ‘essential’. And while that might seem okay in our minds, the reality is we’re contributing to a global pandemic. This isn’t a trivial situation we’re all dealing with. More than a million people now have the virus. Over 70,000 have died.

There’s a broader social responsibility we all need to consider. And the only thing we need to do to help the situation is to stay at home. That’s it. That’s the only cure we have at the moment and it’s working. The curve is flattening. Suddenly not going for a drive seems a small sacrifice to make. Actually, frame it that way and going for a drive starts to feel pretty selfish.

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So please, stay home. The reality is your burning desire to go for a drive is probably a case of ‘you only want what you can’t have’. When was the last time you actually took the car out for no other reason than to scratch an itch? If you have to think about that answer, you can wait until all this clears up before you grab the keys.

What we should all be doing is using this as a wake-up call. We should be making a vow to drive more when we can. To appreciate the simple pleasure of heading out with no real destination in mind; to revel in the isolation and thrill that comes from guiding your car over a quiet section of road.

So get planning. Start thinking about where you’ll go once the restrictions lift. Where you’ll stay, what roads you’ll conquer, and what restaurants you’ll eat at. Wheels is launching a campaign later this week that does exactly that. We’re using the hashtag #driveafteriso on Instagram and we want you to join in. Tag us, or send us photos of your favourite section of road and we’ll share them with our community. The goal is create a backlog of superb driving roads Australia wide and to start driving them once this crisis is over.

We’re all in this together, after all. The only way we’ll get out of it is if we’re all part of the solution. So stay home and plan that drive. It’ll be even sweeter when you finally get to do it.