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Does Daylight Savings Time Make for More Auto Accidents?

Posted on March 4, 2014 by Kelly Wolford

 
At 2:00 a.m. on Sunday, March 9, we will move our clocks forward one hour for daylight savings time. Americans have been doing it since World War I, and each year we lament losing that precious hour of sleep. But more than just losing an hour, research has found the time change could increase our risk of being involved in a car accident.

Though the idea of saving an hour came long before, daylight savings time was first adopted in 1916, in an effort to save energy and associated costs to divert to the war effort. In the U.S., President Franklin D. Roosevelt first instated year-round use of the energy saver during World War II. TimeandDate.com reports that the time change caused significant confusion from 1945 to 1966, as some that opted to use it and others didn’t, making it particularly tough for interstate travel.

Now, only the states of Hawaii and Arizona don’t use daylight savings time, so it’s far easier to figure out when your plane will land or your train will depart. But that doesn’t mean the time change doesn’t cause its own travel problems.

Studies affirm increased accident risk on Monday after DST begins.

A few different studies have found that the risk of being involved in a traffic accident goes up when daylight savings time starts each spring.

One of those studies, published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1996, found accident rates go up markedly the Monday after the time change and reverts to normal after the following week. Following drivers in Canada during and after the time change adjustment, the researchers found an 8 percent increase in traffic accidents. Further, they found a similar magnitude of decrease in accidents when the time shifted back in the fall.

These researchers attributed the car accident risk changes to the loss of sleep in the spring.

A 2001 study in the journal Sleep Medicine had similar findings of a slight increase in accident risk occurring on the Monday following the spring time change. But they also found a higher risk of accidents on the Sunday following the fall time change, suggesting revelers may be extending Saturday night, and the number of drivers influenced by alcohol and drowsiness thus increases on the following day.

Those researchers suggest that both sleep patterns and behavioral patterns influence the accident risk changes associated with daylight savings time.

What daylight savings time means to the average driver

For most of us, the loss of an hour of sleep will be the biggest drawback of our time change. But this single hour of sleep can impact your awareness and even your driving safety for days to come. On your Monday morning commute, you could feel like you’ve risen one hour earlier than normal and unless you plan ahead, you could be drowsy and run the risk of being involved in a crash that would otherwise not happen.

On Monday March 10, it will be brighter out when you drive to work. This is one benefit of the time change that could influence your safety in a positive way. But the sleep change is something you can prepare for in an effort to see as little negative effects as possible when daylight savings time arrives.

Simply start the week prior to the time change by going to bed slightly earlier. Shoot for 15 minutes earlier a week before the change, 30 minutes earlier 4-5 days before the change, and 45 minutes earlier in the few days leading up to March 9. This way, the one hour difference won’t feel quite so dramatic and the preparation week will give you an excuse to get some extra shut-eye.