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“The car beats every other mode of travel in terms of social-distancing capabilities”

Mike Rutherford thinks the safest place for a person to remain socially distant when travelling is inside a locked motor car

I rarely send letters to The Government. But last week I felt obliged to write to a couple of senior, influential folk I know in the corridors of power. Why? Because, during this wretched health crisis, they have a partial answer to the social-distancing dilemma staring them in the face. Trouble is, they don’t know it. Or at least they didn’t before I dropped them a line.

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My letter-writing day started when I accepted an invitation to speak on national radio about the difficulties of social distancing when the lockdown is eased, and when the population resumes travelling to workplaces and schools, for example.

So let’s start with trains, buses, coaches, bikes, pavements and planes. And, in turn, railway stations, bus stops, coach terminals, bike storage zones and lanes, pedestrian rest areas and airports. Yuck! Filthy places. As I told the radio host and, hours later, my ‘friends’ in Westminster – on such modes of transport and at such locations, the public cannot possibly remain two metres apart at all times; we’re kidding ourselves if we think otherwise. The same goes for public transport workers, who are often face to face with passengers.

During the broadcast I put forward the assertion that the best, safest and most appropriate place for a person to remain socially distant when travelling for health, shopping, essential work or other purposes, is inside a locked motor car with windows closed. The presenter seemed shocked. But advised, “you might be on to something there.”

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He wasn’t wrong. It’s a fact that too many people are unwilling to accept – that a typical car is a highly engineered, insulated, almost-airtight metal and glass structure offering a level of protection that plastic screens, or two-metre gaps of thin air, simply can’t offer. The car is a hi-tech family mobility machine-cum-sealed unit. Driven by its regular owner (therefore no need for public transport/other workers) it beats every other mode of travel in terms of effective, potentially life-saving social-distancing capabilities.

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The above doesn’t necessarily mean we must only rely on one person per car. Most seat five; some seat seven. A driver plus one rear seat occupant (preferably sitting behind the empty front passenger chair) will usually satisfy the two-metre rule. And, if it’s okay for a locked-down family to live in the same flat together and sit around the same dining table, there’s a case for saying it’s fine for those same family members to travel in the same, regular ‘home-from-home’ car together for necessary journeys.

Travel by fuel-efficient private car for family, health or work purposes isn’t the complete solution to the dilemma that is social distancing when on the move. But it partly solves the problem – in a way that no other mode of transport does. Let’s all be honest about that. 

If and when my contacts in Gov get back to me with their responses, you’ll be the first to know. Meanwhile, for at least the next few months, I will not be using public transport, or riding in narrow bike lanes. Why would I, when I’ve got a sealed and locked car that affords me and those around me far greater COVID-19-related protection?

Do you agree with Mike? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below...

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Chief columnist

Mike was one of the founding fathers of Auto Express in 1988. He's been motoring editor on four tabloid newspapers - London Evening News, The Sun, News of the World & Daily Mirror. He was also a weekly columnist on the Daily Telegraph, The Independent and The Sunday Times. 

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