Why you should give up driving for Lent

Get more cycling into your life this Lent. Photo: Rob Spanring
A bike laden with shopping rests outside a farm shop
A bike laden with shopping rests outside a farm shop

Why you should give up driving for Lent

Lent begins today. In the Christian church it’s a time for self-reflection and for many, a time to give up a luxury for the following 40 days. This year, Cycling UK’s Sam Jones suggests we all think about giving up driving…at least for journeys less than five miles

Let’s be straight from the start, I’m not advocating (or even) giving up driving full stop.

Right now, even if travelling by public transport was a viable option for long-distance travel, driving for many people is an essential lifeline and sometimes the only option.

I live in Surrey, but I have an 81-year-old mother based in rural Dorset who doesn’t drive. The nearest shops to her are not a short stroll away. They’re not even a bus journey away as there are no buses in her village.

The shops are between five and seven miles away and currently as inaccessible as the moon.

When she needs supplies or being taken for essential trips, then there really is only one option: the car. The kindness of strangers during the pandemic has been unbelievable, but there is only so much they can do, meaning occasionally I’ve needed to step in and make the lengthy round trip to help out as well.

Ideally I’d have done so by bike – but the one time I rode to Dorset a couple of years ago it took me the best part of nine hours to get there and I was left exhausted for days!

There will be journeys, whether for distance or purpose, that for most people the car might be the only solution.

Sam Jones, communications manager, Cycling UK

My example isn’t unique, and will be something I’d imagine most of us will have some experience of especially over the last year. There will be journeys, whether for distance or purpose, that for most people the car might be the only solution.

For those that can get round these problems by cycling, then I truly salute you – but for those who can’t there’s no need to feel guilty.

Where we should feel guilty is for those shorter distances, where walking or cycling is possible.

You know what I mean: that short trip to the local shop which would take a 10 mins to walk in the rain or 30 seconds in the dry while driving… that’s the sort of journey I’m looking to give up for Lent, and is the sort of trip you, your neighbours and the majority of the UK should look to give up, too.

68 percent of journeys made in the UK are under five miles. That’s an easily ridable distance for most people – and if we all did it, it would make an incredible difference.

Infographic explaining how 68% of trips driven in the UK are under five miles

Transport is the biggest source for both air and noise pollution in the UK. According to charity Environmental Protection UK, “In town centres and alongside busy roads, motor vehicles are responsible for most local pollution and most environmental noise.”

According to an article in the BBC in December 2020, the UK saw a drop of 13% of our CO2 emissions as the world collectively saw its biggest annual reduction since World War II.

Professor Corinne Le Quéré, from the University of East Anglia, UK, was involved in the global study, and is reported to have said, “The UK… have a lot of their emissions come from the transport sector and generally have a bit less coming from industry and other sectors.”

It’s clear – the collective impact of driving those shorter journeys where we could perhaps instead walk or cycle is having a damaging impact on our environment.

It’s not just the environment which is suffering, but also our own physical and mental wellbeing due to the increasingly inactive lifestyles we lead. A lack of exercise in our daily lives is putting one in four at risk of a raft of health problems, such as heart disease, type-2 diabetes and some cancers, according to the World Health Organisation.

If looking after the future of the planet doesn't quite tip the balance for you, then perhaps the rising cost of petrol will. Currently the average price for unleaded is 150p per litre, but with surging oil prices due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, those painful heights are only set to rise.

So whether it's the future of the world or your wallet, this Lent is the time to ditch the car (it won’t mind I’m sure) and be a bit more active.

For the next 40 days, Cycling UK is encouraging everyone to aim to use their bike (or feet) for those shorter journeys where you might have been tempted to drive previously.

It’s easier said than done I’m sure, especially if like a lot of people, your riding is more focussed on the leisure or sporting side of cycling. Bringing the bike into your everyday routine can be a challenge – but a worthwhile one.

Photo of a bike outside a shop
Grocery shopping need not be a chore if you do it by bike. Photo Sam Jones

One adventurer who is up for sacrificing their car habit this Lent is Chris Duncan, husband to Cycling UK’s social media guru, Hannah.

“I’ve always loved cycling but tend to do so for adventure – exploring new places on my bike is something I massively enjoy, especially out in the countryside,” said Chris. “However, we mainly use our bikes for leisure at the moment. We’ve been trying to make more of an effort to use our bikes for local trips, too, but realise we still have a long way to go.

“That’s why I’m really keen to take on this challenge for Lent and make a conscious effort to reduce the number of journeys I make by car.”

A man stands with his bike in front of a car
Chris is giving up his car for shorter journeys this Lent. His commitment is on a national charity's website, so he had to do it now...

One of the biggest challenges to giving up the car (and carbon) for Lent is that it is going against decades of accepted and normal practice. Whether we think it is right or not, driving short distances is, as the figures show, normal behaviour for most people.

Behaviour change won’t happen overnight, but it won’t happen at all if we don’t even try; sometimes we just need a little motivation.

“Changing my mindset is probably going to be the toughest part – it can be easy just to jump in the car without even thinking about it,” said Chris. “But the reality is that I’m in my late 20s and healthy, so cycling a five-mile round-trip to the shops should be something I could easily do.

“This Lent challenge is just the motivation I need. Cycling short journeys is a small change to my lifestyle but something I know can make a big difference to the planet – plus it’s fun and keeps you fit at the same time! I’m looking forward to giving it my best shot.”

Choosing to cycle or walk those shorter distances is something we should all be aiming to do. It’s not anti-car to do so, it’s pro-cycling, pro-walking and ultimately pro-you. Take it up this Lent and encourage others to do so as well – and who knows? Maybe this Lent you’ll start, and even better, encourage others to start a beneficial habit of a lifetime.

Up for the challenge?

Infographic encouraging people to walk or cycle sub 5 mile trips

We'd love you to share your ride photos and experiences with us over the next 40 days using the hashtag #DriveLessForLent.

Tag Cycling UK on Twitter or Instagram and we'll choose some of our favourite pictures to share from our own channels.

Together we can inspire and encourage more people to choose active travel for short journeys this Lent.

Want to make cycling better and more accessible where you live? This May across the UK is your opportunity to tell your local representatives to step up, be bold, carefully plan and speedily deliver the cycle lanes and safe cycling infrastructure we all need.

Take action

Five top tips for giving up the car this Lent

1. Do the weekly shop by bike

Impossible you say… but not according to these ingenious individuals!

2. Combine those short trips with your daily exercise

Sounds obvious, right? But use that errand as an excuse to get your bike out of the shed or don your running / walking shoes

3. Reward yourself

Cake is a well-known reward for cyclists, so if you’re riding instead of driving, having a bigger slice than normal is surely justifiable in the eyes of the Lord? If you need some help with a tasty recipe, then we've got you.

4. Gear up

Think ahead to what you’re going to save in terms of petrol over the course of the next 40 days, and invest in a decent breathable waterproof. It's a British winter - it's going to rain. Just because you’re making a sacrifice, it doesn’t mean you have to be uncomfortable while doing so. If you're stuck where to look, our gear reviews should help you.

5. Don’t give up!

You fell off the wagon of good intentions and had to drive on day three… don’t let that stop you from carrying on trying for the rest of the 40 days. This isn’t a competition, but a chance to change normal accustomed behaviour. Take encouragement in the words of late great US President Teddy Roosevelt who said, “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.”

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