“Want to get your Undriver License™?” This question usually elicits either a surprised “huh?” or a broad smile from visitors to the Undriver Licensing Station™. Wherever it goes – festivals, community events, schools, employee transportation fairs – the Undriving™ program playfully nudges people of all ages to reconsider their transportation choices and get creative about getting around.
Since 2007, the Seattle, WA-based nonprofit, Undriving.org, has issued over 8,000 Undriver Licenses™ to people who make a pledge to reduce car use in the coming month. This positive, empowering approach leads directly to behavior change: 96 percent of Undrivers surveyed report following through on their pledges, and 72 percent report establishing a new transportation habit as a result of the program.
We can all be Undrivers, whether we drive every day or don’t own a car. A committed cyclist might pledge to talk to five people about the joys of bike commuting, while someone who needs to commute by car might pledge to try walking to the grocery store, or not driving on Sundays. The scale of the pledge is less important than the process of experimenting and seeing what we discover.
That the pledge is self-determined, and that it’s framed as an experiment, are both key to the program’s success. At the Station we might offer examples of what other Undrivers have pledged as thought-starters – but each Undriver comes up with his or her own pledge. And as an experiment, we’re trying something new, but we don’t know what the outcome will be.
One Undriver pledged to try bussing to work three days a week, even though this would involve two transfers and 1-1/2 hours each way. After a couple of tries, she decided this was just not practical, so she reverted to driving. Failed experiment? Well, back behind the wheel, she found herself feeling so guilty now that her awareness had been increased, that she decided to change jobs so she could work closer to home. Now she walks to work!
We’ve noticed that one change often leads to another. After discovering that bussing or biking to work is actually practical and desirable, many Undrivers start using that mode for other trips, too. One family pledged to leave their second car parked for a month, and try using bikes, walking, carpools, and transit more often. They discovered they really didn’t need the second car – so they sold it!
Undrivers regularly discover multiple benefits from Undriving, some of them unexpected. One woman pledged to try taking the bus to work. First she noticed that her stress level and expenses both went down considerably. Then, she found a wonderful community at her bus stop every morning! She now loves leaving her car at home when she goes downtown. Another Undriver pledged to try commuting by bicycle. He found that he arrived at work with more energy, and he lost weight, too. We might be motivated to get licensed by a concern about climate change, and discover how Undriving benefits our health, community connectedness, stress level, and wallets, as well as the planet.
Undriving sparks people’s curiosity, and helps them to tap into their creativity and resourcefulness (which all of us have in spades, whether we realize it or not). I am continually amazed by what Undrivers come up with. One car-free bicycling advocate pledged to teach an adult how to ride a bike – what a gift! Another woman’s pledge was to “get directions before I leave.” Ha! Think of all the miles she won’t drive as a result. Another creative pledge: “Freeze my car keys in a block of ice!”
One Undriver, Jon Ramer, described the Undriving pledging process as “Un-learning.” He thought about what he could do to drive less, and realized that every time he left his house, he got in his car. So his pledge was – to take his car key off his key ring! For the month, when he got to the door, he had to stop and think: do I really need my car for this trip? This simple pledge led to a whole new lifestyle. He and his wife now walk and bike much more than they did before – since he’s broken his own thought-pattern. (Watch this video of Jon’s story)
The license itself is a great reminder to Undrivers to get creative about getting around on a daily basis. It’s also a great a conversation-starter – a positive, non-confrontational way to talk with others about their car use. Undrivers are putting their licenses on commuter bags, backpacks, and Facebook pages, which opens them up to conversations with friends and strangers who ask, What’s that? One Undriver said, “I feel like you gave us permission to raise the issue with others.” Yes!
We’ve created quite a buzz since our launch in 2007, garnering press coverage on the radio, TV, in the New York Times, and even in Spain. We’ve also fielded inquiries from organizations around the country (and beyond), about utilizing the Undriver Licensing program.
We are now in the process of putting this proven program into the hands of organizations that have a mandate to reduce car use and could use a creative way to engage with their communities. Our first Official Licensing Partner, Intercity Transit in Thurston County, Washington, is now successfully utilizing Undriver Licensing™ in their work with employers around Commute Trip Reduction, in four school districts alongside their Safe Routes to School programming, and at public events to increase transit ridership. (If you know of an organization that would be interested in Undriver Licensing™, have them contact us.)
My own personal journey with Undriving began a couple years before Undriving was born. Seven years ago, I had a 1987 Honda Civic hatchback, that I envisioned going for another 100,000 miles. Until – I had a car accident, that was my fault. Fortunately, no one was seriously injured, but my 17-year-old car was totaled. First I decided not to repair it, and then, not to replace it. But I was not going car-free from a place of empowered choice. Rather, I was doing this out of fear, of my own capacity to be so inattentive. And, I feared that my life as I knew it, was over: I would not be able to do many of the things I loved to do, that I got to by car.
Well, you can imagine how this played out. Of course, it turned out that many destinations were walkable, others were bikeable, and transit filled in most of the other gaps, very well, thank you. Some activities required creative solutions: collaborating with others, catching a ride, or staying overnight with friends when I couldn’t make things work otherwise. And all this led to more connectedness – with people I wouldn’t otherwise have met, with nature, and with the world around me. I also am saving considerable money not owning a car. Buying new tires, replacing the alternator, having insurance – these were all “necessary expenses” with car ownership. It had never occurred to me that the car ownership itself was optional.
These are the kinds of discoveries that Undrivers are making every day through the Undriver Licensing process – but from a much more empowered place than I did.
I see Undriving as an ongoing process – an awareness practice, even. A couple years ago, a friend was coming over to pick me up, so we could go to the movies. All of a sudden it hit me: the miles she was driving, between her house and mine, were my miles! If I was going to take responsibility for my own transportation, I needed to go to her house and we could go from there. Or, better yet, I could invite her to bike or bus with me.
I’d never been aware of this before. And until we are aware of something, we can’t take action on it. This is part of what I love about Undriving. It opens us up to new possibilities, broadens our awareness, and invites us to question our assumptions. Is the bus too inconvenient? Is riding in the rain really that miserable? One woman, a frequent bike commuter, made a pledge to get good raingear. A month later, she reported: “I got over the idea that riding in the rain was too uncomfortable. Now I ride rain or shine!”
Our vision is of a world where more and more people are awake to our own curiosity and resourcefulness – experimenting with reducing our own car use, as well as supporting others to take their own next step, wherever we each are on the Undriving spectrum.
What’s your Undriving pledge? Visit Undriving.org and get licensed to Undrive!
— by Julia Field
Julia Field is Founder/Program Director of Undriving.org. After a car accident seven years ago left her car-free, Julia discovered her calling in Undriving.
For more information on Undriving, visit http://www.undriving.org, “Like” us on Facebook –