What would it take to get you out of your car—at least some of the time? Would you do it for a wallet-size laminated card with your name on it? These were the questions a Seattle neighbourhood group asked back in 2007. In an attempt to encourage people in the community to drive less, they set up a photo booth at a local festival and issued passersby with “undriver’s licenses.” The quirky idea was a success. Over 400 “undrivers” pledged to try new transportation strategies that September weekend. The unofficial licenses proved so popular, in fact, that the community group formed an organization specifically to promote and run the new program. To date, well over 9,000 undrivers have been licensed at events around the Pacific Northwest.

Now, I’m not what you’d call an enthusiastic driver. I was married and more than halfway through university before I bothered taking my driver’s test. Two decades later, I’d still rather walk, bike, bus, or catch a ride with someone else than get behind the wheel myself—so I was intrigued by this playful program.

Prospective undrivers aren’t asked to give up driving altogether; they simply make a pledge to reduce their personal car use (or car use in general) for a period of one month. Undrivers can tick one or more “undorsements” on their licenses, indicating that they will walk, bike, transit, sail, carpool, car-share, telecommute, or “skip the trip.” They can also write their own strategy on the line beside “other.” It’s up to each individual to set reduction goals. Some undrivers attempt to go car-free for certain days of the week or month, while others set themselves an overall driving mileage limit.

The undriving concept is meant to encourage creativity, to inspire people to think outside the box when it comes to transportation strategies. As gimmicky as it may sound, the program seems to work. The organization has conducted a number of post-pledge surveys over the years. On average, 96 per cent of respondents say they’ve followed through with their month-long pledge, and an impressive 70 per cent report that they’ve established a “new lasting habit or pattern” to reduce car use as a result of participating in the program. There are spin-off effects as well, since the license makes a great discussion starter. Eighty-three per cent of respondents say they’ve proudly shown or told others about their undriver’s licenses.

The project’s primary intention is to promote car-free or car-reduced travel for environmental reasons, since transportation accounts for roughly a quarter of the world’s fossil-fuel greenhouse gas emissions. But undrivers have experienced other benefits as they’ve adopted new habits. Many have documented huge savings in gas, maintenance and parking expenses as they’ve cut back on vehicle use. Some families have even discovered that they’re able to get by with one car instead of two—or even none at all. My husband and I have been unofficially employing undriving strategies for decades. We’ve shared a single vehicle for most of our 22-year marriage, and saved thousands of dollars as a result. This savings has been instrumental in allowing me to be home with our children in their preschool years.

When undrivers substitute walking or cycling for driving, there are also huge health benefits. I never had to make time for exercise when I was commuting by bike to the office job I had a decade ago. The killer hill at the end of my daily commute kept my heart—and my thighs—in peak shape. I’ve never been quite as fit since leaving that job!

And then there are the social benefits of spending less time alone in a car. When you walk or cycle to do errands, you get to know your neighbourhood in a much more meaningful way. When you take the bus to work, you get to chat with the other regulars at your bus stop. When you take a neighbour shopping or an elderly friend to church, or coordinate shared rides to a birthday party or Brownies, you’re building human connections. And strong human connections are ultimately the foundation of healthy, resilient communities.

What appeals to me most about the undriving movement, however, is the opportunity to be part of a large, cross-border community devoted to exploring alternative transportation choices. Undrivers are positive, proactive, fun people, and their enthusiasm is both inspiring and contagious. But don’t take my word for it—go to the organization’s website to read or watch the stories submitted by committed undrivers. Or better yet, make a pledge and then send in an inspirational story of your own.

To make a pledge or to find out more about undriving, visit undriving.org. You can also apply online for your very own undriver’s license. A $20 donation is required to process the license, but buying one gets you a free second license to give as a gift. To personalize it, you choose your own undorsements and attach a digital photo. There’s no age limit, so you can also get licenses for the earth-conscious kids in your life.

“Undriving” is a trademarked program. If you belong to an organization with a mandate to reduce car use, they’d love to hear from you. The process for licensing is available to enhance your community outreach efforts.

Rachel Dunstan Muller is the mother of five, and a children’s author. Her previous articles can be found at web link.