Daylight Saving Time A Factor in Fatal Car CrashesNovember 15, 2018
It’s the time of year when we start to think about the changing days due to daylight savings time. The sun rises later in the morning and sets earlier in the evening making the days shorter and darker. Most states participate in daylight saving time twice per year, with the second Sunday in March when we spring forward, taking an hour of daylight away from the morning and giving it to the evening. This remains until the first Sunday in November, when the clock falls back into place. And while most are happy to gain an extra hour in their day on the day that it occurs in the fall, or gain another hour of sunlight in the spring, it also contributes to some rather unhappy statistics.
Spike in Fatal Car Crashes
According to a 2016 article by August C. Smith in the American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, there is a spike in fatal car crashes during the six days that follow the clocks springing forward. According to Smith, the alleged cause of this increase is listed as “shifting ambient light only reallocates fatalities within a day, while sleep deprivation caused by the spring transition increases risk.” What this essentially means is that it takes drivers almost a full week to adjust to darker morning commutes. That along with sleep deprivation – even though we only lose an hour – which also causes a decrease in alertness, creates a deadly combination.
The study, which was conducted over a 10-year period, shows that an annual increase of 27.4 additional fatal car crashes are attributed to both daylight saving time weekends. This equate to a 5.6 percent increase over the course of those six days. According to the study, during the six days that follow the time change, that one less hour contributes to a 46 percent increase in fatigue related fatal crashes.
Arguments for and Against Changing the Clocks
While some studies suggest that transitioning to year-round daylight saving time would help to reduce the number of traffic fatalities – both pedestrian and motor vehicle occupant – certain groups, such as the National Parent Teacher Association (PTA), have petitioned against the suggestion, due to its belief that having children traveling to school in the dark would only create additional safety issues.
Daylight saving time was originally devised as a way to save energy used in lighting. It was nationally implemented and standardized in 1966, though before Congress became involved states (and even communities within them) could choose whether or not to participate. However, due to the chaos (for bus companies and airlines) that it caused by having different communities choose whether or not to follow it, the federal government ordered a mandatory start and stop date. Daylight saving time is decided on a state-by-state basis although currently certain states and U.S. territories overseas don’t follow it.
Though most research tends to focus on the spring daylight saving time, experts still contend that fall’s daylight saving time period also negatively affects drivers, as it still changes sleep patterns regardless of the extra hour gained.
So What Can You Do?
Since we cannot control whether or not we implement daylight saving time, we must take other precautions in order to stay safe during those specific times of year. It is recommended that on the night of the time change individuals get enough sleep and stay on high alert for tired drivers over the course of that following week. This is especially imperative when sharing the road with trucks, as their drivers may not work regular work hours and thus may not have been able to adjust to the change in time as quickly.
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