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Life Vehicles

Updated - 1 September 2003


The personal automobile is one's vehicle through life.  Siriusly.  Not just a means to do all the myriad and wondrous errands one encounters in the course of a day, week, or fortnight.  But a metaphor of the characteristics of how one views themselves and the manner of their trek through all of life's mysteries and challenges.


On a decidedly more esoteric, metaphysical note, the condition and travails of our automobile are also indicative of the trials and tribulations of our lives.  A flat tire might be thought of as a momentarily deflated ego.  A boiling radiator as an overheated bout of anger.  The rear view mirror falling off, a possible hint of "you can't go back again." 


Physically and psychologically, we can consider every failure of our car and the need to fix it, as a simultaneous need to fix ourselves.  The really good news is that we're not likely to be as overcharged as we inevitably feel is the case with the local auto shop!  On the other hand, there is the specter of Therapists, so that we're not out of the woods yet!


If this seems ever so slightly bonkers, then consider the reaction of people in their Life Vehicles when they are being constrained by the life vehicles of others, i.e., traffic.  If there is any reason or justification for everything from road rage, to attempts to inform others of their singular IQ, to a rolling of the eyes at being cut off; then that reason is about being frustrated by the slow pace of others.  If you're marching to the beat of your own personal drum, and your drumbeat is notably faster than those you're sharing the road with, then it's as if your very destiny is being thwarted by the destiny of others.  You are well on your way to going to where no man has gone before, and those turkeys just won't get out of the way!




Our choice of a personal automobile is indicative of how we wish (and are financially capable of) traversing our particular life's journey.  We may feel we want a Jaguar, but unfortunately our current circumstances might only allow for a Schwin.  But even the choice of a Yugo implies something about the way Wego. 


Kathleen McCleary has written [1] that, "You are what you drive."  According to McCleary, "it’s a notion as old as the chariot: Like it or not, what you drive sends a message to the world."  She goes on to point out that in the James Bond film, Die Another Day, Halle Berry's character drives a coral Thunderbird convertible in order to suggest a sexy, but tough as nails woman, very strong, very elegant, and with a sense of humor.  James, of course, drives an Aston Martin Vanguish, and the villain, a Jaguar SKR.


On the other side of the coin, Inter Net joke sites claim that a Volvo 740 wagon tells the world "I'm very frightened of my wife".  You can even get a "Car-O-Scope" from NPR CarTalk gurus Tom and Ray Magliozzi, whereupon they tell you what make of car you should be driving based on their quickie psychological appraisal of your telephone call.  According to Michael Marsden, an Eastern Kentucky University professor, "The auto is perceived as an extension of ourselves."  One poll indicated that people were more concerned about what they drove to a high school reunion than whether or not they were married. [1]


Obviously, this can be taken to extremes by Jerry Seinfeld's 47 Porsches or Jay Leno's 85 vehicle stable (emphasis on Corvettes and Lamborghinis).  Talk about Multiple Personalities!  At least, Jerry's consistent. [1]


McClearly [1] also provides a quick and dirty analysis of what one's auto says about the owner:


bullet Sports Car: A CEO or wannabe, not tied down, likes to push the envelope in work and life, and most of all, claims to be sexy, virile and rich.
bullet Sedan: Supportive, reliable, dependable, practical and a member of the pack.
bullet SUV: Control freak, above it all, preferring a well-insulated cocoon.
bullet Pickup Truck: Independent, and for women, active, hip, and athletic.
bullet Compact: Vivacious, fun and spunky... OR poor and/or just out of college.  A bit of youth, frugality, and verve.
bullet Minivan: Controlled by external forces (kids, pets, and other dependents).  A belief in anything goes inside, and we hope it survives the first six years.

Even the color is important.


bullet Red:  Assertive, aggressive, and strong.
bullet Yellow:  A demand to "look at me!"  (Also, I'm so rich I don't care what you think.)
bullet Orange:  Trendy (at least in 2003)
bullet Silver: Class, numero uno, speed, power, and success.
bullet White:  Old style elegance and wealth -- good for blending in.
bullet Black:  Power and aggression -- especially for a Hummer.  Number one choice of automobile thieves (along with red).
bullet Blue:  Conservative, middle of the road
bullet Green:  Same as blue, but more environmentally conscious


Obviously, cost is always a factor in the decision to buy a car -- even if the Jaguar villain type can only afford a Hyundai Tiburon.  But the part of the country counts as well -- with external validation being the key.  "Convertibles are hot in Florida and California.  Sports cars are more likely near a coast (East, West or Gulf)... while minivans sells best in Chicago.  Chevrolet Suburbans rule in Texas." [1]


People do change, and family needs may drive the issue from a sports convertible to a safe, cost-effective carrier of all the stuff we own and haul around with us.  Women tend to prize safety and reliability above all else, while Men are more likely to think macho.


Then there is the personal testimonial [2] which literally speaks volumes:


“Le Car is my HOME.  It has been my attachment for the last 15 years.  It has helped bridge the sale of my Michigan Victorian that sheltered ‘whomever’ for about 34 years and has provided me with ‘largeness and comfort’ in the interim… i.e. I can get the entire neighborhood into it.


“Le Car is in a class all by itself.  It is also a Sherman Tank… it has taken me where Angels and Fools fear to tread.  One more item… i.e. it is a lovely cool beige, not white, not yellow, not silver… just me.  When I get into Le Car, I become the contented Turtle… i.e. Have my home on my back and wheels under my feet and BABY!!!  WE are off to the races. 


“I don’t feel that I am becoming anything else with Le Car… Le Car and I communicate, literally and verbally.  Le Car has the ability to speak via the electrical.  It has the ability to reconnect itself and set alarms off that were disconnected years before… and that includes, to this day, lights reconnected on the dashboard that were part of the disconnection.  If it FEELS that I am upset, then WALLA!!  It becomes the 4th of July fireworks.  I have to sing hymns to it to get it to quite down.  Anyway, you get the picture.”


Nuf' said about that.




One curious aspect is that while our automobile may be related to one's destiny through life, it's astounding the degree to which the average driver is distracted from paying attention to their traveling destiny.  In an American Automobile Association weeklong survey [3], it was found that 97% of those behind the wheel were spotted reaching or leaning, 91% fiddling with the radio, 77% eating or drinking, 46% grooming themselves, and 30% using a cell phone.  In addition, 40% were seen reading or writing, although mostly at stop signs.  "Such distractions cause 1.2 million crashes a year and 12,000 fatalities."


The report makes a point that cell phones were not quite the bugaboo many had claimed.  And yet, how many accidents were caused by reading at a stop sign -- as in reading a map presumably?  Likewise, the low percentage of cell phone users makes it a pretty good bet that you won't see a high percentage of this particular distraction in all drivers, while a fair number might brush their hair.  In fact, one gets the distinct feeling that the cell phone manufacturers are inciting others -- or simply paying them a "consultant" fee to create studies which tend to exonerate cell phones as a serious problem in driving.  This is quite likely just more Corporate Politics, with the bottom line being about money before lives.


A less biased point of view from the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles and the Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, is a study involving more than 2,600 crash scenes (oft times with multiple vehicles) and 4,500 drivers [4].  In this study the “Top 15 Driving Distractions were:


  1. Rubbernecking (looking at a crash, vehicle, roadside incident, or traffic): 16%
  2. Driver fatigue: 12%
  3. Looking at scenery or landmarks: 10%
  4. Passenger or child distraction: 9%
  5. Adjusting radio or changing CD or tape: 7%
  6. Cell phone: 5%
  7. Eyes not on the road: 4.5%
  8. Not paying attention, daydreaming: 4%
  9. Eating or drinking: 4%
  10. Adjusting vehicle controls: 4%
  11. Weather conditions: 2%
  12. Unknown: 2%
  13. Insect, animal, or object entering or striking vehicle: 2%
  14. Document, book, map, directions, or newspaper: 2%
  15. Medical or emotional impairment: 2%

Furthermore, “Fully 62% of the crashes involved driver distraction in rural areas, where the top distractions were driver fatigue, insects, animals, and unrestrained pets.  The top distractions in urban areas were rubbernecking, traffic, other vehicles and cell phones.”  One might also note the commonality of items 5 through 10.


Strangely, the study did not include the effects of mundane astrology on the insurance rates, nor did it, apparently, take into account that cell phone users are notorious about denying the extent to which their telephone is interfering with their driving.


The idea that the condition of our car -- including whether or not it's washed, lubed, gassed, and in tune -- being a sign of our need for being washed, lubed, and so forth... may be a bit much for some.  And if you are someone who thinks that such an idea is pure bunk...  then, what kind of car are you driving? 



Mental Health        On the Other Hand        Inexpensive Remedies


Health and Responsibility         Communications, Education, Health


Or forward to:

      Stress and Longevity         Therapists        Laughter        Fear of Flying






[1]  Kathleen McCleary, "You Are What You Drive," USA Weekend, October 18-20, 2002.


[2] Lila Hartmann, private communication, 2003.


[3] "Your Time", Time Magazine, July 2003.


[4] Netscape, “What’s New”, March 29, 2003.


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