My home in Whitby and my studio in Etobicoke are separated by 75km of (mostly) highway, which translates to an average of 90 minutes in the car. It was disheartening to learn, after some quick calculations, that my 90-minute commute equals 750 hours of driving per year or 31.25 days. A full month every year is spent behind the wheel looking at the licence plate of the car in front of me. Although driving to and from work isn’t my favourite thing to do, until now, I hadn’t given this much thought. I’ve commuted to Toronto from Whitby for the past 24 years and have accepted this as part of my daily routine.
After doing some reading about the topic, I found many studies showing that long-distance commuters suffer from psychosomatic disorders which stem from the stress of driving. Some symptoms include headaches, back pain, digestive problems, high blood pressure, sleep disturbances and fatigue. Most of this sounds fairly obvious—if you’re stuck in traffic because of bad weather and you’re late for work, you’re going to get stressed and we all know stress can lead to many different health issues. Luckily, I don’t get stressed easily.
The negative impact commuting has on my life, is time that I can’t dedicate to family, friends or hobbies. When our children were younger, my wife, Isabel, was a “weekday single mom”—rushing home to make dinner before driving the kids to appointments, music lessons or sports practices, then she would bring them home to help them with homework. Daddy would show up later, usually driving directly to the soccer field in time to watch the game.
There is also a financial burden to commuting—wear and tear on the car, higher insurance rates and fuel, which in my case translates to around $5000 per year. I’ve also needed to take the 407 a few times which takes 30 minutes off my drive but comes at an additional cost of $30.71—highway robbery, literally.
Personally, I enjoy my time in the car and try to be productive. I listen to audiobooks or podcasts, and use the time to write—dictate to be precise. In fact, half of this article was dictated to my iPhone while driving to work this morning. If I’m getting lonely, I’ll make a phone call (usually to my mother) and I also sing (really, really) loud, which I’m sure is quite entertaining to the other drivers who can’t hear what’s going on inside my car. I think of my drive as “David time”.
So why do I choose to spend 31.25 days sitting behind the wheel and continue to subject myself and my family to the torture of commuting? I guess it’s the bigger good—family priorities. My children went to great schools, they grew up surrounded by their grandparents and cousins, Isabel works close to home and we were able to afford a house with a large backyard—I’m making the best of something that’s not so great.