Why We Still Need a #WeekWithoutDriving

The second annual event gets people out of their cars – and that’s still important

Person crossing at crosswalk - Week Without Driving

By Hanna Brooks Olsen

For many people, a week without driving sounds impossible. How would they do their grocery shopping? What about getting their kids to and from school? Will they be able to make it to their doctor’s appointment in time?

These are the questions that non-drivers pose to themselves every single day. And these are the questions that Disability Rights Washington wants everyone to ask during their second annual #WeekWithoutDriving, a weeklong event that encourages people to leave their cars at home and experience life without a car.

Some People Live Every Week Without Driving

In his proclamation about the #WeekWithoutDriving,  Governor of Washington Jay Inslee called access to transportation “a fundamental part of health and community connection.” Never is that more clear than when you’re reliant on that transportation. But for folks who drive regularly, these needs – and the gaps in the system – are easy to miss. That’s why the #WeekWithoutDriving was launched last week – to help folks see the privileges they enjoy just by getting into their cars and turning the keys. 

And it truly is a privilege. 

On their website, the organizers explain that for “nearly a quarter of the people in our state – people with disabilities, young people, seniors and people who can’t afford cars or gas,” driving isn’t even an option – and that those who can’t drive tend to be the same people who are already facing economic and social disadvantages.

“We are organizing for a future where nondrivers can access our communities.”

The #WeekWithoutDriving is meant to help folks put themselves in the proverbial shoes of non-drivers – and experience the additional hurdles they face every day.

Forcing Drivers To Confront The Unseen Flaws

Last year, more than 100 individuals, including public figures and elected officials, participated in the #WeekWithoutDriving. And each one of them had a powerful takeaway that they said changed the way they viewed their local transit system.

State Representative April Berg called it “exhausting” and recounted the many ways she had to change her daily schedule just to manage the basics. 

“As a policymaker, it showed me really how this has to change,” Berg told the Everett Herald. “This is just me trying it for a week, but for folks who live it we have to do better.”

Seattle City Councilmember Tammy Morales told Real Change News that the opportunity to get out on foot also brought her closer to more of the human suffering she might have otherwise missed. 

 “Walking around the city and being on the ground, you see a lot of people suffering,” she stated.

One potential criticism of the Week Without Driving is that it only gives a small glimpse into life without a personal vehicle. It does not, however, address the dependence on cars that we all experience, whether we personally drive them or not.  Some newer structures of modern life – like more on-demand grocery and food delivery and ridesharing services, do make life easier for folks who can’t or don’t drive themselves. However, these same systems often rely on personal vehicles. To truly address our dependence on cars, we have to take note of their prevalence.

But that’s also a part of the event, according to the organizers. In the “Tips” sheet provided on their website, Disability Rights Washington advises that “you can use ride-hail or taxis if they exist where you need to go, but again, think about how the cost could impact your decision to take this trip if this was regularly your only option.”

More than 70 elected officials have signed up to take part in the #WeekWithoutDriving this year and many more regular folks will also be taking the challenge. There is no expectation of perfection – after all, our transit system is still deeply flawed and people still have lives to live and meetings to take in far-flung areas – but the challenge is about progress, not perfection. And it’s about a willingness to try, rather than to shut out an idea because it seems impossible – because there are numerous benefits to getting out of your car, as well.  As Disability Mobility Initiative’s ED wrote the Stranger, “the world nondrivers inhabit is one where you build connections across your community as you wait together at the bus stop, or when someone offers you a seat on the train. None of this happens when you’re hermetically sealed in a private vehicle. Non drivers can see a different future, and we want you to join us.

”The Week Without Driving has gotten attention beyond Washington state.  America Walks would love to see it spread nationwide.