End of Daylight Savings time spells increased driving dangers

Annual “Fall Back” means sun glare for the AM commute, darkness for PM commute

By:John Townsend, AAA-Mid-Atlantic

WASHINGTON, D. C. (Thursday, October 31, 2019) –– It is a dream come true for millions of Americans who every now and then wish they could literally “turn back the hands of time.” They will get that chance and their wish in the wee hours of Sunday morning, at 2 o’clock, to be precise. In addition, the end of Daylight Saving Time (DST) also means getting an extra hour of sleep. 

Yet there are some side effects of setting our clocks back one hour, including disrupting our body’s internal clock and disturbing our sleep/wake cycle and circadian rhythm. As a result, area residents and drivers must be prepared for potential challenges the annual time change entails each fall, such as changes in sleep patterns that may increase chances of drowsy driving and shorter days, which means driving home in the dark and on caliginous roadways, warns AAA.

Truncated days, moonless nights and obsidian streets will pose risks and hazards for all roadway users; including motorists, vehicle occupants, school children, joggers, pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists, and moped and e-scooter riders. Some studies show “the biggest impact of setting our clocks back one hour can be felt on some of the skills that affect the quality of driving – concentration, alertness behind the wheel, and reaction time to potential hazards.”

A word to the wise: “Go to bed at the same time you normally would, so you can benefit from that extra hour of sleep.” Sleep-deprived drivers cause more than 6,400 deaths and 50,000 debilitating injuries on American roadways each year, warns the National Sleep Foundation (NSF). 

“During 2018, the number of crashes involving pedestrians on the roadway and the walking path peaked in the months of October (284 crashes), November (292 collisions) and December (288 incidents) in the Washington metro area. The common denominator was the temporal factor,” said John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Public & Government Affairs Manager.

“While many will enjoy an extra hour of sleep this weekend, few commuters and motorists realize the added dangers that can come as the result of a time change – especially when they are behind the wheel. Although we gain an hour of sleep, our sleep patterns are disrupted. Drifting off to lullaby land behind the wheel can result in unsafe drowsy driving episodes.”

“The end of daylight saving time in the fall is a time of year that many people look forward to; after all, an extra hour of sleep is a hard thing not to like. However, this one-hour change may have some negative effects when it comes to road safety,” according to InsuranceHotline.com. It cites a report from the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC) that previously reported: “there is generally an increase in the average number of collisions during the late afternoon commute in the two weeks following the end of daylight saving time, compared to the two weeks prior to the change.”

It is the sum of all our fears. Most motorists (96%) identify drowsy driving as very or extremely dangerous, according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety 2018 Traffic Safety Culture Index. Yet, despite high rates of perceived danger and personal/social disapproval regarding drowsy driving, about 27% of drivers admit to having driven while being so tired that they had a hard time keeping their eyes open, at least once in the past 30 days. Drowsy driving is a factor in an average of 328,000 crashes annually, including

109,000 crashes that result in injuries and 6,400 fatal crashes, previous AAA Foundation research shows.

Wake up everybody. No more sleeping in bed. No more backward thinking. Time for thinking ahead.” Sleep is a mystery. Researchers continue to delve into whether “both sleep loss and behavioral changes occurring with the time shifts for Daylight Saving Time (DST) significantly impact the number of fatal traffic crashes in the United States.”

One such study in the Sleep Medicine journal revealed, “There was a significant increase in accidents for the Monday immediately following the spring shift to DST. There was also a significant increase in the number of accidents on the Sunday of the fall shift from DST.” 

“Everybody responds to Daylight Saving Time differently,” said Leah Scully, Traffic Safety Specialist, Mid-Atlantic Foundation for Safety and Education. “Drivers should not rely solely on their bodies to provide warning signs of fatigue. Instead, they should prioritize getting plenty of sleep in their daily schedule. Be aware that the shorter days this time of year can create more drowsiness behind the wheel.”

Beware of a world of darkness. “It would take hundreds of thousands of moons to equal the brightness of the sun.” Well, “the fall and winter months bring less daylight and darker commuting hours, which can lead to more crashes between cars and pedestrians or bicyclists,” warns the fall 2019 Street Smart Program. It also warns: “Fewer daylight hours spell danger for pedestrians, bicyclists, and drivers.”

AAA Mid-Atlantic Tips for Drivers

  • Slow down.
  • Turn on your headlights to become more visible during early morning and evening hours.
  • Keep vehicle headlights and windows (inside and out) clean.
  • Do not use high beams when other cars or pedestrians are around.
  • Yield the right of way to pedestrians in crosswalks and do not pass vehicles stopped at crosswalks. Bright lights. Big city. Washingtonians are already sleep-deprived. It is a natural fact. “When drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians have spent the past eight months commuting in a well-lit setting, it may be hard to adjust and compensate for less light and poor weather conditions,” notes InsuranceHotline.com. See and be seen on stygian streets. This time of year, street lighting is a light-saver. The District of Columbia has “approximately 75,000 street lights on streets, alleys and public spaces.” Yet as science writers explain, “Even with a full moon, the amount of light reaching the earth is over 100 trillion times less than during the day.” 

AAA Mid-Atlantic Tips for Pedestrians and Bicyclists

  • Cross only at intersections. Look left, right and left again and only cross when it is clear. Do not jaywalk.
  • Cross at the corner – not in the middle of the street or between parked cars.
  • Avoid walking in traffic where there are no sidewalks or crosswalks. If you have to walk on a road that does not have sidewalks, walk facing traffic.
  • Evaluate the distance and speed of oncoming traffic before you step out into the street.
  • Wear bright colors or reflective clothing if you are walking or biking near traffic at night. Carry a flashlight when walking in the dark.
  • Avoid listening to music or make sure it is at a low volume so you can hear danger approaching.
  • Bicycle lights are a ‘must-have’ item for safe night riding, especially during the winter months when it gets dark earlier.

“You are getting sleepy.” It not as strange as it seems after the time shift. “Rolling back the clock may sound like a great opportunity to stay up later, however, the time change can impact the quality of your sleep and affect your body’s internal clock,” advises the ICBC. “Whether you’re walking, cycling or driving, take advantage of the extra hour, sleep well, and be proactive on the road as the days get shorter.”

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