Friday, July 17, 2015

The Pious Prius Effect

Every day that I ride my bike I get rudely tailed/cut off/nearly run over by at least one car. It's something a cyclist expects and artfully maneuvers around. It occurred to me one day, though, that a number of those incidents have involved the drivers of Priuses, which is funny since ownership of such a vehicle is supposed to indicate moral superiority and a respect for the creatures of the earth. Granted, my sample is not random, since I've spend much time in Ann Arbor, the Prius capitol of the Midwest. But it got me thinking, why does that happen?

Maybe that sense of self-righteousness that comes from sinking into the energy-efficient seats makes drivers think they've somehow magicked away all the negative consequences of driving. And while they may have decreased some of those, they're still driving a vehicle that can kill, operating within and contributing to a system that allows some people freedom of movement and denies it to others.

I actually did drive a Prius once, when I had to grab a last-minute Zipcar.
I must confess, the smooth interior and silence at stoplights had me imagining that this wasn't a car at all - it was an environmental pod of sustainable movement! The feeling quickly faded when I couldn't figure out how to turn off the parking break and had to drive fifteen minutes with the console beeping warnings at me, but still. I do own a car now, a trusty Focus that has been in our family for a decade now, and I actually appreciate the grunts and rumblings of the engine that accompany me through every trip. They remind me that I am an imperfect person operating a dangerous machine in a broken region. I've got to be humble, careful, and aware of the people with whom I'm sharing the street.

Now that I'm commuting by car to work every day, it's more important than ever. I can't be lulled by early morning drowsies and soft NPR into thinking that 40 minutes at 70 miles per hour makes sense or comes without a cost. It's the best I can do right now. And luckily, my old car rumbles me reminders.

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