Driving

5 car journeys you could skip to help improve air quality.

Ciara Knight

Every September, the world celebrates Car Free Day, where cities around the world try and cut traffic and reimagine what their streets could be used for. But if we really want to make a difference to the planet - why not pledge to make it happen more often?

According to a recent survey we carried out, close to 30 million UK drivers plan to continue cutting their mileage as lockdown eases, which is great news for the country’s efforts to lower its carbon emissions.

Lowering your emissions can seem like an intimidating thing to do at first, but once you know the basics, it’s easy to put in place some small daily changes that can all add up. As a certain well-known supermarket so often reminds us, every little helps.

Something as simple as rethinking those shorter car journeys can make a huge difference to your pollution contributions. Most assume that longer distance drives are more harmful to the environment, but the opposite is true. It’s actually the shorter journeys of under a mile that are the most polluting.

Car emissions systems typically take around five minutes to warm up and activate, which means that cars are at their most polluting in that time. Research from Transport for London shows that over a third of journeys in the capital cover fewer than two miles, and it’s likely that this problem stretches far beyond London. Clearly, something needs to change.

We’re suggesting that drivers pledge to leave the car at home one day a week, where possible. In the same way that a dog is for life and not just for Christmas, let’s use Car Free Day as inspiration to change our driving habits for the better by giving them some longevity. Ever heard of Meat Free Monday? It’s an initiative that encourages people to take one day off a week from eating meat, to help “slow climate change, conserve precious natural resources and improve their health by having at least one plant-based day each week”. We’d like drivers to start considering the same thing with their cars.

We’ve rounded up the top five short car journeys to skip if you’re feeling proactive about lowering your emissions. Obviously they won’t be useful for everyone, and we know it’s not as easy for some people to cut driving out of their routine as others, but we hope we can offer some inspiration. Plus, if you’ve got a pay-by-mile policy, you’ll be saving money (as well as the planet) by not driving, since you only pay for the miles you drive, and that sounds like a win-win to us!

1. Nipping to the supermarket for a few things.

Supermarket food shelf

For the weekly shop, usually the car is an unavoidable choice, but let’s talk about those midweek top-up shops where you’re just getting a few essentials. Where possible, why not leave the car behind and walk instead? You’ll be getting some exercise, cutting down on your carbon footprint and can rightly justify that pesky special offer packet of biscuits that always manages to find its way into your basket. Walking may add a little extra time onto your journey, but you can feel smug in your decision to help save the planet along the way.

If you want to go one step further, you could consider cutting down on the weekly drive to the supermarket every so often by making the move to online shopping if you haven’t already. Delivery trucks are doing several trips at once, and some even have hybrid vehicles that are slightly better for the environment than others. The deliveries are mostly plastic-free, with places like Morrisons actively banning all plastic bags and pledging to exclusively use recyclable packaging by 2025. Where they lead, others are likely to follow.

2. Reconsidering the school run or work commute once a week.

City walking commute

No, we’re not saying you should pull a sickie for the sake of the environment, that would be incredibly bad advice (although the proposition may give your boss a laugh). If it’s possible, especially given the current climate, you may also find it easier to negotiate a day when you can work from home and cut out the commute altogether.

If that’s not an option, figure out if you could go car-free one day a week by walking, cycling, scooting, using your wheelchair or local public transport. You’ll skip the traffic, save on car-related costs, avoid parking anxiety, reduce your emissions and feel that all-important high that comes with making a choice that benefits the world around you. This is easily a far more appealing decision during the summer months when the sun is shining, but with a quick consultation of the weather app, you can plan your week so that you arrive on time and bone dry.

Check with your employer if there’s a cycle to work scheme, see what public transport options are on offer, or plan the quickest route to walk using a reliable map app. You can even skip the gym that day if you’re walking or cycling, meaning a night sprawled on the couch watching the latest true crime documentary on Netflix will be fully deserved. It’s a good habit to get into and you can consider adding a second eco-friendly commute each week down the line if you’re feeling particularly committed to the cause. The planet, your wallet and your fitness will thank you for it.

3. Driving to visit nearby friends and family.

Cycling commute road

Sometimes a last-minute trip over to your friend’s place for a cuppa and a chat comes about at short notice and the easiest option is to jump in the car to make your way over without delay. But try to get into the habit of thinking about some other options before you pick up the keys. Is it within walking or wheelchairing distance? Could you dust off the bike that’s been sitting neglected in the shed for a while? Or is there a bus service that stops right outside their house? It may add a few minutes onto your journey, but if everyone did it, those emission reductions would all add up over time.

Maybe they live a little further away than those options allow for, but an Uber (other companies are available) is always an option too. They’ve got a good approach to sustainability, with things like ride sharing meaning you can spread the environmental impact over several people by jumping in the same car. A lot of their vehicles are hybrids too, so it’s likely that you could come closer to a carbon neutral trip than you would’ve made in your own car. Plus, it makes for a good talking point when you arrive at your friend’s house, right before you get into the latest juicy gossip update.

4. Driving to the gym.

Walking park exercise

Some days you’re just not feeling a trip to the gym, but just like death and taxes, eventually it has to be done (ideally not in that order). Why not incorporate a walk, or even a jog to the gym into your warmup routine? It may seem unappealing compared to the comfort of arriving by car, but you’ll cut down your workout time and carbon emissions at the same time. Lots of gyms have tight car parks, so you’ll save on parking costs and the stress of a car door potentially bashing into yours by some muscled-up gym-goer trying to squeeze into their motor.

If you’re feeling particularly eco-friendly on the day, why not skip the gym entirely and just go for a run around the local park instead? Gyms use a mammoth amount of electricity, as do the people in it, with one person producing up to 300 watts of energy during a workout. Until they figure out a way to harness that energy into real life uses (kind of like a hamster on a wheel powering a television), we have to take matters into our own hands and make small changes that will add up over time. Carbon-neutral gyms are becoming more popular, but until they’re everywhere, sometimes a DIY outdoor gym can offer a welcome change of scenery.

5. Going to the drive-thru on a lazy day.

Pizza delivery takeaway

It’s midday, you’ve had a big night out and you want nothing more than the comfort of an obscene amount of carbohydrates to claw you back from the brink. Naturally, your mind drifts to a place where you can get said carbs without ever having to leave the confines of your car. Of course: the drive-thru! You could guilt your significant other into driving you there so that you may rejoin the human race through the healing effects of chips and ice cream. Or, you could make a more eco-conscious choice.

It’s worth remembering that there is a service where you can get that exact food delivered to your door, without ever having to leave your bed for that matter. Deliveries are there for a reason, and a lazy day most definitely calls for them. Put your feet up, peruse the options on the various food delivery apps available in our great nation and allow someone else to do all the work. Many of these companies use bikes or mopeds for transport, making several deliveries along the way, so the carbon emissions are going to be significantly lower than a single short car drive, with your engine idling in the queue.

Whatever your choice of avoidable short-distance car journey, we hope you’ll join us in pledging to give up one trip a week for the sake of the environment.

We’ve seen the success of the plastic bag tax, where over 15 billion bags have been taken out of circulation since it was introduced in 2015. Let’s use these stats to encourage change on a larger scale. If everyone agrees to skip one short car journey a week, the benefits are countless.

How’s pay-by-mile helping?

If you’ve got a pay-by-mile policy, you only pay for the miles you drive, and not the miles you don’t. That means during days like Tuesday 22nd September 2020 (World Car Free Day), if you’re not driving your car, you won’t pay a penny for your insurance that day.

We're asking thousands of our members to pledge that they won't use their cars on Car Free Day in the hope that we can help raise awareness (and all contribute a little less pollution too).

You can hit one of the buttons to make the pledge too:

Car Free Day Twitter PledgeCar Free Day Email Pledge

You don’t have to wait for a car-free day to curb the driving, though. If you’re feeling particularly environmentally friendly one day, remember that by not driving you’ll not only be saving the planet, but also your bank balance.

If you’re a By Miles member, you’ll save money by driving less. Our pay-by-mile car insurance policies only charge you for the miles you actually drive – so if your car stays at home, you’ll pay less for your car insurance. Not in the club yet? Don’t panic. You can get a quick quote in under a minute here.

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