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Can the End of Daylight Saving Time Affect My Driving?

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When people turn their clocks back every fall to end daylight saving time and days get shorter, they often feel sad because it signifies that summer is truly over and winter is on the way. What you may not know is that this time change throws off daily routines and changes sleep patterns, at least temporarily. As a result, many of us experience feelings similar to jet lag, and this can go on for as much as a week. It makes it harder to get through a long workday, makes you feel disoriented and groggy, and can increase the risk of drowsy driving. The latter can be dangerous in fact; there are plenty of statistics linking fatigued driving to increased car accidents.

What Do the Statistics Show?

Switching between daylight saving time and standard time twice a year wreaks havoc on our bodies and our roads, and there is data to prove it. This year, daylight saving time ends on 2:00 a.m. on Sunday, November 7, 2021, and clocks are turned back an hour. Most of the studies on the subject focus on the so-called spring forward time change, but the effects on the human body are the same for “fall back.” A University of Colorado Boulder study revealed a six percent spike in fatal car accidents in the United States throughout the workweek that followed the end of daylight saving time. This leads to approximately 28 deaths every year; the study also showed that the farther west people live within their time zones, the high the risk is for these fatal accidents.

This report analyzed 732,835 accidents recorded in the U.S. Fatality Analysis Reporting System between 1996 and 2017. Indiana and Arizona do not observe daylight saving time, so these states were not included in the study. For the so-called fall back time change, there was a decline in morning car accidents but more accidents in the evening, since darkness arrives sooner. The researchers looked at 22 years of data and learned that 627 people lost their lives with the spring forward to daylight saving time shift.

They also believe that this number is a conservative estimate, since their data included only the most severe auto accidents that took place during that period. There are other studies that show increases in workplace-specific accidents on the Monday after the daylight saving time switch. The National Safety Council also reports that fatal traffic accidents are three times more likely to occur after dark.

How Does the Time Change Affect People?

With the sudden change of days being an hour shorter, one of the first thing people experience that first morning after the clocks are set back is that it is lighter outside. Plus, unless you went to bed an hour earlier, you will likely feel tired. An extra cup of coffee could help, but your circadian rhythm can be out of sync and the drowsiness you feel can impact your driving abilities. Not being as alert to the surroundings and having a slower reaction time cause people to lose focus; they easily get distracted or can start to daydream.

The twice-yearly time changes also cause people to feel angry, impatient, or depressed. Any one of these can cause aggressive driving and road rage accidents. Imagine one angry driver tailgating another one who is fatigued and distracted; this could be a real recipe for disaster. The sleep deprivation people experience directly impacts their moods, and do not forget that teenage drivers feel it as well. Since teen motorists have less driving experience and impulse control, their risk for getting into accidents during this time is also significant.

Other drivers are also at higher risk for drowsy driving accidents. This includes commercial drivers who operate tractor trailers, buses, and tow trucks, since they work long hours and night shifts. Although they are not supposed to be working for more than 11 hours straight, this is still a very long time to be behind the wheel. The National Sleep Foundation reports that people who work upwards of 60 hours a week are 40 percent more likely to get into motor vehicle collisions.

How Can I Prepare for the Time Change?

You can take some proactive steps to prepare your body for the impending time change in November. A few days before, start going to bed a bit earlier. Begin by turning off the lights about 10 to 15 minutes earlier each day, and also wake up 10 to 15 minutes sooner. You can increase this time each night, and it will help ease you into the new schedule. To help you fall asleep earlier, do not exercise or drink caffeine too close to bedtime. Also turn off your electronic devices an hour before you go to bed for a better sleep experience.

Do not overdo it on the caffeine that first day of the time change. Drink the amount you usually do, and maybe have one extra cup toward the middle of the afternoon. Too much caffeine can make you feel anxious and jittery, which is not a good way to be when you are behind the wheel. Stay hydrated and try to do some exercise; this will help you more than being overcaffeinated will.

If your workday ends at five o’clock or later, you will most likely be driving in low light or in the dark until the time change in the spring. This is always more hazardous than driving in the day because it is basically harder to see. Take some time to make sure that your headlights are in good working order before November 7, and practice defensive driving at all times. It can be a real shock to the system to suddenly have to start driving home in the dark, so try to prepare yourself mentally before turning on the ignition. Also be careful if you use prescriptions that cause drowsiness, and never drink and drive.

What Are the Signs of Drowsy Driving?

Sadly, many fatigued drivers do not realize how drowsy they are until it is too late. Understanding the warning signs can help, and keep in mind that they mimic the symptoms of drunk driving. Signs include constant yawning and a heavy feeling in the eyes. Also, if you see that you are drifting into other lanes, driving too slow, or cannot focus on the road, you could be too tired to drive. Another symptom is being unable to recall the past few miles that you drove. When you feel fatigued when driving, the safest option is to pull over somewhere to take a rest. A bit of coffee can help but again, do not drink too much. If another passenger is in the car, they may be able to take over for you. Some people keep themselves awake by singing to themselves or turning up the radio, but those are only temporary measures.

Even if you are wide awake, there could also be other drowsy drivers on the road during this time of year, so you are still dealing with the increased risk of accidents. Give these drivers a lot of room, avoid sudden lane changes, and stay patient. If other drivers are not fully aware of their surroundings and have poor reaction times, they could inadvertently crash into you if you behave aggressively.

Delaware Car Accident Lawyers at McCann Dillon Jaffe & Lamb, LLC Promote Safe Driving and Provide Effective Legal Counsel for Car Accident Victims and Their Families

Although many organizations have tried to eliminate the twice-yearly time changes in this country, we cannot expect it to go away anytime soon. If you or someone you care about was injured in a motor vehicle accident and wish to pursue a claim against an at-fault driver, contact the trusted Delaware car accident lawyers at McCann Dillon Jaffe & Lamb, LLC. Our legal team is ready to hear your concerns and will fight for the compensation you deserve under the law. Call us today at 302-888-1221 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Wilmington, Delaware, we serve clients in Wilmington, Dover, Newark, and Middletown.