It was only when I had a puncture last Sunday driving home from Bristol that it made me stop and think about how much I rely and use my car for my interpreting work. As you’ll see from my webpage ‘About’, I travel all over the South West – Devon, Cornwall, Plymouth, Somerset and Dorset. It can be lovely. Just a couple of weeks ago I drove back from Cornwall with the sun out and hardly any traffic on the roads. I don’t see driving for my work as a chore, but it did make me think about staying safe and healthy when driving. Changing my mode of transport is almost impossible for the distances I need to travel. I couldn’t contemplate getting the train or bus. That’s not only because of the time difference between these modes and the car but also because a lot of my destinations are not conveniently near a bus stop or train station. On the rare occasion I could, possibly, entertain the idea of travelling by bike, if I know I will be working in one place for the day or a few places in the Exeter area. This is an enjoyable prospect as I look out of my window on a nice, sunny, day, but I don’t think it would be fair to arrive at an assignment beetroot-red face and trying to compose myself whilst burning inside from the heat and wiping my brow from sweat!
Most interpreters living in the South West region will travel long distances by car due to the rurality and span of the region. Because of the national shortage of interpreters it’s not unusual for me to be in Exeter in the morning and Cornwall in the afternoon. Not only is it important for my wellbeing to make sure I have given myself plenty of time to get to my destination and planned my journey in advance, but also to ensure I am not exhausted by the trip which would affect my ability to interpret to the standard clients understandably expect. Having said this, I do seem to spend a lot of time in my car – not driving, but waiting for an acceptable time to go into the venue and introduce myself. Somehow I don’t think those who have booked me would welcome me arriving 45 minutes before the agreed time! This often happens because I have given myself far too much time to make a journey for fear of being late, only to find the roads were clear and I caught every green light on the road.
So, apart from cycling on the odd occasion, it seems driving wins for my commute! I am not alone in this prospect – the RAC claim that 7 out of 10 people in rural areas get to work by car than bus or train http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-25175752. What’s more the average British commuting time is the highest in Europe http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/the-road-to-happiness-dont-catch-the-bus-to-work-9124322.html. One of the main things I consider when driving is fatigue. Fatigue is a factor in up to 10% of accidents – so it is important I don’t start a long journey if I am tired http://www.theaa.com/public_affairs/reports/tired-drivers.html. It is also those distances where I travel on dual carriageways (A30 Cornwall to Exeter) or motorways (M5 Exeter to Bristol) where I am most at risk as this type of driving is monotonous, with fewer interruptions and challenging scenarios to keep me alert and attentive http://www.brake.org.uk/info-resources/info-research/road-safety-factsheets/15-facts-a-resources/facts/485-driver-tiredness. Also – a little fact for the day – our bodies have a natural dip in energy at the times 2pm to 4pm making us sleepy and less able to concentrate http://www.brake.org.uk/info-resources/info-research/road-safety-factsheets/15-facts-a-resources/facts/485-driver-tiredness.
Sometimes I have finished an assignment and I can be in such a rush to get home. However, advice from other interpreters has been to have a short walk before I attempt a long journey home. I often do this when driving back from Plymouth, particularly driving on dark, rainy nights as the drive can become monotonous. One slight problem with this is I can be drawn into Drake Circus (the shopping centre in Plymouth) and end up exercising my debit card rather than my feet! I also try to leave plenty of time to get to an assignment. This is not only so that I can arrive at the venue in plenty of time to meet with those I am going to be working with (co-workers, clients, etc) and set myself up looking at any prep that may have been provided, e.g. powerpoint slides, but it also has a massive effect on my levels of stress. When I feel I am short for time I can physically feel myself breathing more heavily as I feel out of control and more likely to drive dangerously in my attempt to get to the venue quicker. On longer journeys I also factor in breaks and even see it as a treat, e.g. I will treat myself to my favourite, soy, skinny, decaf late from Starbucks on one of the service stations on the A30. And, of course I keep my music fresh in my car so that I can have a good old sing along to myself and other drivers looking at me as if I am mouthing something to them (I currently have Taylor Swift in my CD player – don’t judge!).
Being alert and constantly being aware of what is going on around you whilst you are driving will obviously have a number of effects psychologically and physically (I know I slouch quite a bit whilst driving and I am in the same position sometimes for an hour and a half). Whatever job you may have (interpreter or not) I think it is worth remembering and doing things to ensure our health and wellbeing are affected by driving as little as possible. Happy driving!