Since when did driving become an indoor activity?

Driving with the windows down is not just a choice, but a philosophical shift.

By Laurance Yap Wheels.ca

Sep 13, 2021 4 min. read

Article was updated 2 years ago

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It doesn’t seem like that long ago that I drove everywhere with the windows open, the music up, the wind in my hair, no matter what time of year it was. When you’re young, driving is an act of connection with the outside world: pedestrians, people in other cars, the sounds of the engine and the city, the smell of a freshly-laundered road after a rainstorm. You’re simultaneously showing off, and soaking it all in.

Now, I can barely remember the last time I opened one of the windows on my daily drive, other than at the entrance of a parking lot or car wash. Or when someone smashed the glass to steal my laptop and camera in 2019. In fact, I’m pretty sure three of the four windows haven’t been used at all since that incident three years ago.

What happened? Age has something to do with it, of course; I’ve far less hair for the wind to whip through. Maybe I care a little less about people seeing me, no matter how cool the car is. Most new cars also don’t seem to be designed to be driven this way: open windows disturb carefully-honed aerodynamics and cause a whole lot of buffeting.

But, there’s more to it than that. There is a philosophical shift in the way we treat our cars. Our cars have become an extension of either work or home, and the chores and distractions associated with them. Even though I still consider myself to be a driving purist, scarcely a commute goes by without the phone ringing, one of the many in-dash messaging apps pinging, or a calendar invitation flashing up on the screen.


Even ignoring the encroachment of work into our drives, we still want to be entertained. At home, and now in our cars, we’re constantly paging through menus and reviewing options, rather than simply choosing a radio station or inserting a CD. Driving requires concentration and shutting out the world a little bit more. Windows stay up; we start to look down more as we look out less.

That our driving has suffered as a result is obvious, but it’s not just because of extra distraction caused by the tech. Sheltering ourselves behind the wheel with the comforts of home, the pressures of work, and maybe a fast-food meal on top of it all, we wilfully tune out what’s going on around us. We avoid eye contact and generally become ever-less-considerate to our fellow road users.

All of which begs the question: how much better would our roads be if we all started to treat driving like it was an outdoor activity again? When I go for a walk to get a coffee on a Saturday morning, people I see along the way actually make eye contact. We generally give each other space on the sidewalks and park paths. Sometimes, we’ll even smile and say hello. There is usually disapproval of the folks walking-and-talking loudly on video calls.

I’m lucky to have another car in the garage, an old Porsche that gets used less than I like these days. Years ago, I added a modern head unit that lets me stream music, make phone calls, and even navigate to parts unknown. It is, therefore, equipped to do all of the things an “inside car” should do. However, it’s a bit too loud to support a phone conversation, the touchscreen is too small to be really useful, and the recently-refreshed A/C is still a bit of an asthmatic wheezer.

The car really rewards being driven like it’s outside: sunroof and windows open, engine grumbling and ticking at traffic lights, steering wheel writhing in the hands, shifter rifling between the gears. Given how much I’ve sunk into it over the years, I’ve found myself calculating and cringing at the cost of every excursion, but it’s worth it. Driving like this makes me feel good – a little more positive, a little less cranky, a little more connected to the world. Every time I go for a drive, I feel like I need to go for more.

Guess what? Driving like this in my prosaic hatchback yields much the same result, with slightly less charismatic noises and a bit more turbulence inside. And that’s the lesson. Making our cars an extension of the indoors is a conscious choice, and conversely – no matter what the car, no matter what the tech – it’s worth remembering that roads, and our cars, are still outdoors.




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