By Stephanie Hagen, Head of Content, Autonomy

Celebrated across the globe each September 22nd, World Car Free Day raises awareness about how much less congested, polluted and noisy cities would be if motorists ditched their cars for walking, cycling, public transport, and other forms of sustainable mobility. While the first edition of World Car Free day was officially observed in 2000, the tradition of “Car Free Days” can actually be traced back to the middle of the 20th century.

The History of World Car Free Day: From an energy crisis to an environmental crisis and back to an energy crisis 

The first Car Free Days occurred in the Netherlands and Belgium in 1956 in response to the interruption of oil shipments during the Suez Crisis. Every Sunday from November 25th to January 20th, 1957, cars were banned from the road in these countries. During the 1970s, further Car Free Days were instituted in nations such as Denmark and Switzerland to mitigate the effects of global energy crises. 

Sign Up


By signing up to the Autonomy newsletter you agree to receive electronic communications from us that may sometimes include advertisements or sponsored content.

During the 1980s and 90s networks, organizations, and events in cities across Europe and North America, such as Paris, San Francisco, and Ottawa, started popping up to imagine a car-free future and propose Car-Free days for their cities. The motivation to implement these days was no longer fueled by an energy crisis, but rather an environmental one as pollution and congestion had become a common enemy for cities everywhere.

The momentum continued to build and in the year 2000, Carbusters (now World Carfree Network) declared the first official World CarFree Day on September 21st. The First European Carfree Day followed the next day on September 22nd and saw the participation of 760 European towns. The Day continues to grow and thousands of cities around the world will participate in this 2022 edition. 

While World Car Free Day has traditionally focused its awareness efforts on decreasing car use in cities to combat carbon emissions, pollution, and congestion, the recent energy crisis due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine has added a new layer of urgency to the day. With the International Energy Agency now encouraging governments to once again implement Car-Free Sundays, it is more important than ever to think about how innovators and policymakers can work together to make cities car-free all year round. Effectively, we need to shift motorists to mobilitsts. 

The shift from Motorist to Mobilist 

A mobilist is a person who does not need a privately owned vehicle to move around their city. They instead have a number of more convenient and less expensive choices — whether that be bikes, scooters, public transport, ride-hailing options, or even shared autonomous vehicles.  Achieving this Motorist to Mobilist future will take cooperation and collaboration between companies, policymakers and cities, which is exactly what Autonomy, the world’s leading mobility network facilitates through its events and online content, and community. While we are happy to celebrate World Car Free Day this year, we look forward to making it a thing of the past by achieving this transition from motorists to mobilist.
Want to learn more about World Car Free Day? Check out what some of Autonomy’s partner  cities are doing to celebrate!