Automobility, eclipsed

-By Johannes Fiedler, Architect, Graz

While vowing to abstain from general conclusions on automobility before the backdrop of the current public health crisis, I do feel incited to comment on the way car-use is handled in the restrictions of movement imposed by the authorities. The ordinance of March 15th 2020, issued by the Austrian Ministry of Health[1] restricts the access to public places to a limited set of purposes, described in 4 Articles: 1-self-protection, 2- care for others, 3 – covering daily basic needs, 4 – work. Article 5 indicates that all other activities are allowed as long as they are undertaken only in the company of persons sharing the same residence and that a minimum distance is kept to all other persons. There is no restriction of the range of movement.  In a separate clause of the same ordinance, the use of public transport is restricted to the purposes 1-4, with the effect that people are not allowed to use trains, trams and buses for non-essential purposes, such as for recreation.

The use of cars, however, is not restricted. Hence, it is perfectly legal to drive to any place in Austria, for whatever purpose – as long as you are alone or accompanied by members of your own household. Technically speaking, this regulation makes sense, as the idea of the restrictions is to limit the danger of contagion, which is given in public transport and not in a car. Socially, however, the grossly distorted range of movement between car-users and those who do not drive, poses a risk to the idea of solidarity in the combat against the spread of the disease. It leaves large parts of the population, especially in cities, confined to their immediate surroundings, while others are free to roam. Astonishingly, people assume that restrictions on the range of movement apply (which is only the case is some Alpine municipalities) and they abstain from exploiting the automotive freedom that the legal lacuna is offering.

With little traffic on the roads and in the streets, the matter of automobility is eclipsed from public discussion.


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