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Taking Driving for Granted: Cars and Other Cultures

Car keys on the map
Photo: iStockphoto

Growing up in Edmonton, driving was the ultimate goal of every teen. You get your learner's permit at fourteen, your driver's license at sixteen and, if you were REALLY lucky, you'd inherit your parents' clunker so that you could drive your friends to the mall.

Driving is a huge part of our culture as Canadians that most of us take for granted. But driving and vehicle ownership is not a straightforward proposition in many other places in the world. Here are a few interesting tidbits about driving and car culture outside of Canada:

  • In Singapore, the government is very dedicated to curbing vehicle ownership in order to keep traffic orderly and pollution down. As a result, owning a car in Singapore is a very costly venture. Between the taxes, fees and the Certificate of Entitlement you have to obtain via auction before being allowed to drive, the total cost to buy and license a $16,500 vehicle would be close to $140,000.

And that's only for 10 years - once your 10 years is up, you'll need to either scrap your vehicle and begin again from scratch or bid on another COE (the average cost of which is currently $45,000).

This video from the show Might Car Mods explains more about how car ownership works in Singapore and gets some of the locals' perspectives on driving - interesting stuff!

  • Europe has its share of traffic hassles - according to Forbes, seven of the top 10 worst cities for traffic are in Europe. The city of Amsterdam has been restricting traffic since 1634, when horse-drawn carriages were causing so many traffic jams that the city had to step in. Amsterdam's narrow roads and laneways just aren't built for car traffic and it can get very congested very quickly. While obtaining a vehicle license is not nearly as arduous as in Singapore, the city's excellent public transportation system and tradition of biking make vehicle ownership much less desirable.

    Visitors to the city are encouraged to avail themselves of the Park and Ride areas outside of town and use the public transit system, canal cruises or bicycles to get around. As a result, Amsterdam residents take biking for granted the way we take driving for granted; it's just what you do!

  • In busy Shanghai, you can buy all the cars you want - the challenge is getting the license plate that allows you to operate them. License plates are available via auction once a month and can cost up to $12,000. You can obtain a license plate outside of the city, but only cars with Shanghai license plates are allowed on the city's elevated highways during peak hours, which makes the expensive plates worth it for the city's commuters.

  • Car culture is huge in Saudi Arabia - there's a car for every four people there. Luxury cars and high speeds are de rigueur…but only if you're a man. Women can legally own cars but Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where women are banned from driving on public roads. There's a movement afoot to change this rule and now that women will be allowed to vote in the 2015 elections, activists are hopeful that the driving ban will be lifted in the near future.

Have some of your own global car culture quirks to share? Tell us in the comments!

- Rose R.



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