Anecdotal evidence and traffic data both prove that the spring switch to daylight savings time and the corresponding autumnal return to standard time result in an increased rate of car accidents. Researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder studied the biannual time change for a period of 10 years, and found consistent increases in crashes during the week after the switch.
Why do accidents spike?
There are several reasons why the switch to and from daylight savings time can be catastrophic for those on the road.
- Lowered visibility – simply put, when it’s dark, it’s harder to see. Particularly during the morning commute, drivers used to having a clear view of the roadway now find themselves shrouded in darkness. We all know that it’s harder to see in darkness than it is in daylight, and it’s wise to reduce speed, use your headlights and pay closer attention, but many drivers don’t do that.
- Fatigue – our biological clocks have trouble adjusting to changes in daylight levels. Circadian rhythms get out of sync relatively easily if we don’t sleep at consistent levels. Getting too little – or even too much – sleep can result in fatigue that lasts all day. This can literally lead to falling asleep at the wheel. The sleepiness usually lasts for several days after the transition in and out of daylight savings time.
The return to standard time is rapidly approaching; daylight savings time ends this year at 2:00 am on Sunday, November 5. Experts recommend trying to go to bed a bit earlier a few days in advance. This will make it easier for your internal clock to adjust. It’s also advisable to leave for work earlier than usual in the days after the switch, that way if you should find yourself getting drowsy behind the wheel, you’ll have a bit of time to pull over and squeeze in a quick nap.
Attention to driving is of extreme import all year round, but in particular when you are suddenly in darkness and may be fatigued. Put down the cellphone, drink your coffee before you leave, and wait to put on your makeup when you arrive at your destination instead of behind the wheel.