Going without a car means giving up some control over the safety of yourself and your family, or the illusion of control.
Last year, when we lived just over a half mile from our elementary school, I walked my kids in the morning and my wife met them at the end of the day and walked them home. Maybe half the time, when the weather was bad or we had errands to run or we were running late, we drove them to school and back. With door-to-door parental supervision, we could make sure that nothing happened to them. On Sundays, we arrived at church minutes before (or, occasionally, after) sacrament meeting started, and we collected our kids and left minutes after primary was done.
Things are different this year without a car. When church is done, once we exchange a few words with the other members, our bus has usually come and gone, so we get to stay and talk for another half hour while our kids play outside. Driving our children to school is not an option, no matter how often the kids ask us to buy a car. I still walk the boys to school (because our first grader would otherwise take 50 minutes to walk just over a half mile to school, inspecting every interesting stick and rock on the way), but they get out at different times and walk home by themselves. This is how the school prefers it. It actively discourages parents from driving kids to school, and its advice for bad weather is to dress the children warmly, as exercise and fresh air are good for children. German schools tend to put greater store in fostering independence, sometimes in ways Americans would find alarming. Our first grader was asked to bring a knife to school to practice apple peeling, for example. We sent him with a butter knife to be on the safe side, but the rest of the kids brought the kind of sharp paring knife that would send an American school into code-blue lockdown and get the kid expelled. German schools also tend to be broadly tolerant of violence between children, a policy I find horribly misguided.
Bad things could happen, on the way to school or at school or on the way home. There are streets to cross and all kinds of people on the way. When I was around sixteen, my father mentioned that he would check the clock at work every morning and afternoon. If no one called him by 9:30 or so, it meant that nothing too terrible had happened to me or my brothers and sisters on the way to school; if no one called him by 4:30 or so, it meant that nothing too terrible had happened on the way home. Now I find myself checking my watch the same way, but for a six year old.
I like riding buses and trains, but the the only reason the German train system hasn’t experienced a massive terrorist attack is the poor soldering skills of the disgruntled Lebanese gentlemen who targeted the same kind of regional express commuter trains that my family frequently rides. Something bad could happen sometime. There’s a reason that suicide bombers target trains and buses at rush hour and not minivans.
I rarely miss our car, which required regular maintenance and a bank loan each time we pumped it full of gas. I especially don’t miss knowing that the most dangerous daily activity for my children is riding in a car. Children are many times more likely to be killed or maimed in car accidents than in the nightmarish scenarios that inhabit parents’ imaginations. Looking at the numbers helps keep the various dangers in perspective. But it does not make the nightmares go away.