Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
There's just something about driving that feels like freedom. Just think about Thelma and Louise. Sure, for T+L it's about the freedom to drive off a cliff while celebrating the bonds of sisterhood (not something we recommend), but it's also a reminder that in the car, we can go wherever we darn well please.
There are tons of ways in which driving goes hand in hand with freedom for Kathy and her friends. (Steer yourself to the "Freedom and Confinement" theme for more driving chitchat.) At Hailsham, the students can't drive yet (to be fair, they're too young for licenses), and they never ever have freedom to leave the school grounds. But things are completely different at the Cottages. There, being able to drive means the students can go on road trips whenever they want. They can see the outside world. Then when she's a carer, Kathy spends a ton of time driving to and from work and finds herself enjoying the time it gives her to reminisce.
It's no coincidence that when Kathy and her friends are chatting about their ideal futures, a lot of their dream jobs have to do with driving. Even Kathy, who doesn't normally go in for the whole dream future thing, gets caught up in the freedom that would come with driving:
Quite a few students wanted to be drivers of one sort or another, and often, when the conversation went this way, some veterans would begin comparing particular scenic routes they'd travelled, favourite roadside cafés, difficult roundabouts, that sort of thing. Today, of course, I'd be able to talk the lot of them under the table on those topics. Back then, though, I used to just listen, not saying a thing, drinking in their talk. Sometimes, if it was late, I'd close my eyes and nestle against the arm of a sofa—or of a boy, if it was during one of those brief phases I was officially "with" someone—and drift in and out of sleep, letting images of the roads move through my head. (12.23)
So maybe Kathy does get her dream job in the end, since she spends so much time driving around as a carer. But it's still no dream life. And if cars are the way to freedom, we've got one big question for Kathy: why doesn't she just drive away and never come back?