A fresh sprinkling of statistics suggest we’ll be in our cars less than ever this Christmas. Simon Hacker unwraps the truth
1 Yes, it’s that time of year again when we hear a lot of traffic-based lyrics. Chrissie Hynde will warn you that two thousand miles is no commute for anyone who’s had one mince pie too many; Chris Rea, breaking off from his year-round warnings of the satanic state of the M25 (and, according to those who knew his true motivation, the A19 into Middlesborough), will suggest driving home for Christmas is going to be “top to toe in tailbacks”, and John Lennon will, of course, complement your satellite navigation with the ever-useful advice “the road is so long”. It is, it really is.
2 Arduous deep-winter journeys date all the way back to the Bible, but it wasnít until 1927 when TS Eliot put the real dampener on the whole event with his grim interpretation of what it must have been like to navigate via yonder star for the Big Event itself: his Journey of the Magi, the tale of the three wise men to deliver gifts to the infant Jesus, reads like the bulletin of a depressed soldier, written with every expectation that it will never be relayed to his commanding officers: ìA cold coming we had of it/Just the worst time of the year/For a journey, and such a long journeyÖî It gets worse. All said and done, camels might offer brilliant miles per gallon, but theyíre rubbish in sleet.
3 As with turkey and trimmings, we consume more than our fair share of fuel when it comes to the big Christmas exodus. But some key findings on driving trends suggest we’re not quite the gluttons for punishment that we’ve always been. For a start, recent data crunched by the RAC Foundation (over a period of twelve years, so no small sample) proved we have cut back on our average total mileage from 9,200 miles in 2002 to 7,200 per year by the end of 2013. That’s a drop of 14 per cent, although the downward pressure on fuel prices is anticipated to produce figures for 2015 which will show the trend rising back up again.
4 Nevertheless, the Department for Transport claims the distance we are driving to work is on the rise, and between now and 1995, we are driving five per cent further. The latest average for men is 10.2 miles, but women seem to have negotiated a better deal. On average, they are only going 6.7 miles to and from work. This is particularly smart given that our personal happiness decreases with every mile of travel. Data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) identifies “commuter-itis” being most obvious among those who travel between an hour and 90 minutes (the global average being 40 minutes), with any residual feelings of happiness apparently disappearing entirely if you commute for three hours or more ñ even if it is Christmas. The worst possible commute for personal happiness, if you are wondering, appears to be any journey of 30 minutes-plus by bus. No wonder only 16 per cent of us commute to work by either bus or train.
5 So we sorely need some cheery Christmas carols. The stress of this lack of control, the delays, boredom and isolation cause lower life satisfaction and anxiety, says the ONS. And although it seems like every other middle-class executive you know has binned the keys to his Audi for a helmet and lycra bib, this is an endemic issue, given that 57 per cent of us commute by car. Last year, it was reported that 1.8 million Britons were travelling three hours or more for work. The worst profession for addiction to the road? Step forward accountants – 75 minutes is your average commute, while IT workers are chasing you close behind at 65 minutes.
6 So much for the romance of the festive road. But if you find yourself top to toe this month, spare a thought for those for whom your journey would be a doddle. No fewer than a hundred London professionals will be commuting home to the Orkneys, which is 500 miles and two flights away. And over there in Los Angeles, some 10,000 workers will be making their last journey of the working year back home to Sacramento. Each day, they travel 800 miles to the office.