Cristina Odone welcomes the death of the car

The age of the car is drawing to a close. You can't even have sex in it now

Some of us got there earlier than others. We knew this car thing was a dubious pastime, a hyped-up way to get from A to B. My own eureka moment came in Africa, where I was having my first-ever driving lesson in a Jeep. My instructor beside me, I drove through a remote village in the Comoro Islands. A chicken crossed the road and I hit it - and then watched with horror as the huts emptied of women and men, all of whom came rushing at us, baying for blood. "Hit the accelerator!" shouted my instructor, and I did. As I drove us away from the scene, he explained that the chicken represented at least three families' supper - but no Muslim would now be able to eat it as it had not been butchered halal-style.

That was it for me and the car. For years thereafter, I had to put up with the derision of drivers who think the car is It. But now the car's had it. Proposed legislation will ban you from having sex in it. You can no longer drive into the centre of London with it (well, unless you're prepared to pay £5 for the privilege). And transport experts are openly discussing the introduction of toll roads that would penalise the car further.

The car is clearly heading for some bumpy rides. And its demotion spells the end of one of the most potent status symbols we have. The macho who shows off his Porsche as if it were an extension of his male organ; the four-wheel people carriers that prove you are a good provider for your family; even the Mini with its retro-chic - cars in the past were shorthand for who we were.

They were also crucial to our urban mythology: from Jack Kerouac to "Nicole and Papa", car culture provided us with characters and themes that gave substance to our dreams. In your car, you could be a daredevil adventurer or a flirty young thing, or even a mature papa who dotes on his daughter.

And what of the car as passion den? From the 1950s, when we watched American teenagers "making out" in the back seat of a shark-finned Ford, the car delivered us from disapproving parents and the living-room sofa, offering us a somewhat uncomfortable alternative venue for our first fumblings.

All of which explained why more than 2.5 million cars were sold last year in Britain. Now, though, with laws and policies turning clearly against the car, that figure is bound to come down. As my friends' cars rust in the garage, they will mourn and complain. I'll show little sympathy: "On yer bikes!" I say.

This article first appeared in the 03 March 2003 issue of the New Statesman, What has America ever done for us?