Credit: GG Features Editor Nairne Clark Hopkinson (@nairne_creates)

Curbing your car for Covid

By Claire Thomson

 Is it worth it to bring your ride to uni during the pandemic?

For many adolescents, passing their driving test and purchasing their first car is symbolic of independence and freedom. It offers them the chance to embark on adventures and travel almost anywhere and everywhere. At the height of the coronavirus pandemic, more and more students have made the decision to bring a car to university in order to avoid the increased transmission risk on public transport. After students moved in mass numbers this Christmas, it is important to consider how we view car travel during these unprecedented times, especially for those who are trying to reduce the risk to their loved ones.

Everyone has their own reasons for having a car at university as a student. Last year when I was living in halls, I had my car in Glasgow as a way of travelling to and from the Stevenson Building, Scotstoun and Tollcross for swim training so that I was not walking back by myself late at night. This year, I am in a flat much closer to the campus, so originally decided that having a car in Glasgow wasn’t worthwhile. A month after I had moved into the flat, though, I was desperate for my car back as I was quickly getting bored of walking along the same streets and in the same area and was craving a new place to explore. For me, having my car nearby allowed me the freedom to leave the city and separate myself from others to go for a walk or run (and of course for the late-night Maryhill Tesco run). Whilst public transport would have ultimately allowed me the same independence, I had peace of mind knowing that I was reducing the risk of contracting the virus for me and my flatmates.  

Firstly, there is the question of to car-share or not to car-share? At what point does travelling by car actually increase the risk of transmission? In the olden days of BC (before-Covid), car sharing was all part of the classic university experience. The spontaneous road trips, booze shopping before a wild night in Hive and minimising the humiliation for your friend on their walk of shame on a Friday morning were among the most important reasons for having a car at uni. However, nowadays, so many are arguing the fact that car-sharing is the same as meeting someone indoors, which is certainly out of the question with yet another lockdown being enforced. The government guidelines currently recommend against sharing a car for travel apart from under exceptional circumstances. However, if all parties have recently tested negative, minimised their contact with those outside their household and are all travelling the same direction, is car-sharing then more viable and a safer option than mixing with a myriad of households and touching foreign surfaces on public transport? Face masks and hand sanitiser are the key in this situation along with fresh air. So, if car-sharing is absolutely necessary, wrap up and roll down those windows.

Now, can you catch Covid in your own car? Yes? No? Maybe? Only if you are travelling alone and have not visited anyone or anywhere? Is there really a right answer to that question, and is there anywhere you can’t catch Covid? Over the last nine months, it has become very clear that Covid is like a super-disease and can survive on surfaces for days if these are not cleaned regularly. According to a study by the RAC, 57% of drivers hold a car to higher value now than before the coronavirus pandemic, with two-thirds of drivers aged between 17 and 24 believing that having access to a car is more important now than in March. Cars have now not only become a necessity for that weekly flat grocery shop or the occasional doctor’s appointment, but in these circumstances, also for journeys spanning the length and breadth of the country, whether that is travelling to visit vulnerable relatives or partners, or moving back to the flat that you’re paying for but not living in.

In general, the risk of transmission indoors is greater than the risk of transmission outdoors. Consequently, government guidelines state that at least a metre should be kept between you and other similarly anxious passengers on public transport. Most people at the best of times, myself included, are not the biggest fans of public transport, but this time there has been a silent consensus made among the general population that these should be avoided. What once was the easiest method of transport for students has now become a massive pain, and adds to the stress of what was already a tense semester in front of a computer screen. The addition of having to book to travel anywhere combined with the ever-changing lockdown travel restrictions has further caused the shift to moving towards private car ownership and self-reliance.

Whilst on one hand, yes, a car can solve the many problems of minimising the chance of catching Covid-19 en route, it cannot be denied that a car is not the most cost-efficient method of transport for a student living away from home and not to forget, on a budget. To begin with, the car itself can cost a small fortune, even when bought second-hand, and that’s without the insurance, petrol, MOT, road tax, repairs, the never-ending list of car expenses continues. And if the cost of parking around the West End hasn’t put you off, then consider the environmental impact a car has. According to National Geographic, cars are one of the biggest factors driving climate change due to high carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions, alongside the exploitation of materials required for construction and the consumption of fuel. To make you feel guilty and reconsider, the more cars on the road, the quicker the ice caps melt, the faster the sea levels rise, the more ill Earth becomes, and then we are faced with the bigger problem of trying to solve the irreversible problems we’ve created. Whilst the smog in large began to disappear during the first lockdown, we now have to keep it that way but clearly, with the larger dependency on cars, this is going to be incredibly difficult.

I can’t hide the fact that having a car did wonders for my sanity last semester, but if I’m being honest with myself, I don’t think my wee Punto will not be making an appearance in Glasgow this next semester. Last semester I ended up not being able to get a permit, as my mum’s name was on the ownership instead of mine, and the 25-minute walk from my flat in Woodlands to the free (yes you read that right – free) parking on the other side of the Botanics was not worth it. Deciding to invest in a car as a student is a very difficult decision, and it is absolutely necessary to weigh up both sides of the argument. In all situations, safety should prevail and with the number of Covid cases on the rise again, this might as well be as good a time as any to take that leap into motor ownership and first and foremost decrease the risk of transmission to all.


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