To Drive or Not to Drive?


As I sit here and look at my bicycle leaning up against the wall, I am reminded that I am one of a number of students at the University of St Andrews who does not have a valid UK driving licence. But how many other students are there like me? Does this even have anything to do with driving or owning a vehicle? Should I place attaining a licence higher up my list of priorities? Clearly there are many questions here, so it’s time to get on my bike.

To start, I set up a quick survey online and advertised it through Facebook, that all pervading influence on student life. Surprisingly, the survey received 57 responses in just a few days. Clearly this is a burning issue. 65% of the “massive” 57 students who responded hold a UK driving licence across a fairly evenly spread year of study. However, the great diversity in opinion regarding licences is something I did not expect.

The costs involved clearly dissuade a fair number of students from taking lessons, sitting the test, buying a vehicle, insuring it, paying road tax, passing an MOT, maintaining it, paying for fuel, and the list goes on. Especially at St Andrews, where everything is within walking distance, some students find that the costs are simply not feasible, and so do not get themselves a licence. Rachel Popper, a second year English student, outlines the problem with minimal fuss: “Basically, it would be an unnecessary expense which I cannot afford.” The “unnecessary” sentiment is echoed by undergraduate Ashley Jaymes, who stopped driving lessons, “knowing that I am going to be in St Andrews for the next few years where everything is within walking distance.” However, both agree that a licence will be important later in life, and Popper explains, “I would hope to have my license before I start a family, as I wouldn’t want to have to take my kids on a bus or train to get everywhere.”

Jaymes agrees, “a licence is certainly useful at any stage in life and almost certainly will be necessary in the future regarding employment.”

Cost aside, it is clear that many students believe attaining a driving licence is a vital part of their development, and not just for driving. James Taylor, a third year Chemistry student who has already gained his licence, sees it as “practically a necessity later in life.” For him, “having to cut down job choices due to not having a car to commute with is not an option.”

Cathy Andrew, a fourth year psychologist, stresses that her licence “is very useful, even though I do not use my car very often. It will help in getting a job later on.” A driving licence is, then, another feature in the all-important curriculum vitae.

Dr Chris Lusk, director of student services at St Andrews, is fairly clear in her opinion on the matter. In her words, “having a driving licence symbolises how a job applicant has thought outside academia and is more practical and flexible, spending money on broadening his/her scope.” Furthermore, “if I am given two similar applicants for a job, I would choose the one with a driving licence.” For Dr Lusk, a driving licence is much like an extra-curricular activity that has been formally assessed. Thus, it represents far more than just the ability to drive.

Dr Lusk also feels that the “sustainable agenda” we see so publicly promoted today has had an effect on the number of students who enter University with a driving licence. “Ten years ago students saw a licence as part of their portfolio, an essential skill to take to University after school. Not so anymore.”

In order to track down this “sustainable agenda”, I spoke to Roddy Yarr, the environment and energy manager at St Andrews Estates. Yarr believes, “a licence is a tool which can be very useful, especially a clean licence.” However, he does not encourage more cars in St Andrews: “Students don’t need a car in St Andrews, they can wait until they graduate.” Yarr’s feelings on the matter go beyond sustainable energy concerns, however, and road safety is a matter close to his heart. As far as he is concerned, we either need fewer vehicles on the road or more continuous testing for drivers.

Estates also carry out their own surveys on student travel (Student Travel Survey 2009). In their slightly larger survey, 1241 students were surveyed, and it was found that 3% of students drove to lectures compared to 94% who walked or cycled. Though this doesn’t necessarily equate with the number of students who have licences, the number of vehicles in St Andrews seems to be in decline. In 2007-09, Estates issued 803 parking permits to students. In 2009-11, 612 permits were issued – so, either student’s are parking less or there are fewer vehicles amongst students more recently.

Clearly, having a driving licence does not just enable a student to drive but is also an important tool when looking for employment. The decision of whether or not to drive can be made independently of having a licence; and perhaps in the competitive workplace of today, more of us should aim to gain as much of an advantage as possible and get a licence. As I finish this article, I cannot help but hear the words of Eleanor Parr, a second year psychologist, ringing in my ears – “It felt like something I ought to do to be a grown up.” Maybe it’s time I grew up.

Ananda Rabindranath


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