The interior of the Peugeot E-Legend, an electric concept equipped with autonomous driving, has a the steering wheel which can retract into the dashboard.

I DON’T know about anyone else but for the most part if, let’s just say I was driving from Klang to Kuala Lumpur, it is very likely that I can remember only about one fifth of the actual trip. The rest of the time I probably spent wandering in my mind.

You might be tempted to chastise me for not paying attention when I am driving but do try to remember every inch of your last drive and tell how much of it you can remember.

Some studies show that we operate on some sort of subconscious auto-response when driving a car in familiar roads, which, by definition, is where we drive most of the time.

I say cars have become a sort of metal cocoon for the modern world, a place of uninterrupted solitude where, for the duration of the drive, we are in almost complete control of our thoughts and actions.

If we put our phone on silent or even flight mode, then the outside world has no real way of disturbing us inside the expensive movable living space that we call a car.

When we are 17 and first got our driving licence, steering fever would have been very strong and every offer to take over controls is accepted with a combination of honour, excitement and glee.

A true motorhead never loses that feeling, no matter his age. It may have lost some intensity and we may not be as excited about every offer but we certainly still feel the buzz of driving an all-new model for the first time.

As we approach the 13th decade of the automobile or horseless carriage, it seems that man, and some women, have become even more obsessed about this icon of modern technology.

If we look at the number of car care products that line supermarket shelves and DIY or hardware stores, one would think that the automobile is an indispensable feature of life in the 21st century and the sheer number and variation of paint polisher and buffing materials indicates that there is some sort of vanity worshipping of cars going on here.

The more I think about why I love cars, and I don’t pretend to know what your particular peculiar relationship with your loved one may be, the more I think that the source of that love is not so much the pleasure of driving and it is not so much the pleasure of control or power either, but the pleasure of solitude.

I put it to you that we are simply living out our boyhood fantasy of having a fortress of solitude, which in turn is one of mankind’s most enduring desires to be able to access all there is to know about himself and take a moment to reflect on his purpose.

It is not pure coincidence that Superman has a fortress of solitude, even the strongest needs time alone to consider all.


The Peugeot e-Legend (left) and a classic 504 Coupe from 1969

Today, when the world intrudes on our mind through our mobile devices ceaselessly and incessantly, the need to focus on driving and the actual solitude of being in a closed space is very valuable.

OK, so I may be overdramatising all this but I want to suggest an exercise for everyone. It is a simple exercise.

It is for that fairly long drive, at least to Seremban or Tanjung Malim or anywhere that is long enough to cause all your passengers to doze off.

Obviously if you are driving alone, even a drive from Petaling Jaya to Gombak is enough to carry out this exercise.

The trick to this exercise is to not think about the exercise when you start out. Drive like normal and when you find the cabin all to yourself, then remember this exercise. Try to recall what was going through your mind at the moments before you are brought back to this article.

In the meantime, try to recall the last time you find yourself alone in the car and the road in front is neither twisty enough to be fun or straight and empty enough to attempt a land speed record. What do you remember of that drive and try to recall your thoughts during that time alone.

Recently, I realise that my moments alone in the car are probably the most peaceful moments that I have. Sometimes, I just let my mind wander ahead of the day, sometimes I go into long-term planning mode and sometimes, it just goes into quiet contemplation of the little things.

The time alone with my thoughts have allowed for a less tangled view of the web of reality. As such, the car has given me something more satisfying than just driving pleasure.

With my decidedly average brain, my epiphanies are very minor and related to things like “Huh, that’s why they ‘tarik’ the tea”, or “Red cars get into more accidents because in an emergency we tend to hit objects that catch our attention last”.

A big brained person, a philosopher or theoretical physicists may arrive at great breakthroughs in the car. I have no evidence of this but in the much-celebrated social media tradition of the 21st century, I am going to insist that my opinion is valid.

Valid enough to be printed anyway.

The personal space within that car is our escape from the endless chatter and grumbling of everyone and everything around us.

The cabin of the car is not just a Faraday cage for electricity that takes any and all charge and just ground it safely, it is an isolation chamber from daily life. It is almost like a temple of sorts.

Strangely enough, the car is able to do this while still being noisy and smelly. When I drive an older car, which has no air conditioning and bumps and skips over road imperfections I still get the same feeling of solitude.

I am not suggesting that the car is the only place that modern man becomes contemplative but it is a place that allows us to be alone with our thoughts and every day it gives us at least an hour of such opportunity.

Although on the surface of it we may not realise it’s importance in our growth as a person, on some level we do, because we lavish our cars a lot of attention.

I think self-driving pods will end this glorious role because the fact that we no longer need to concentrate on driving will cause us to be sucked into the small screen and be denied time alone with our thoughts.

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