Changing Clocks Means More Emphasis on Safety, Says AAA
Motorists should not fall back into bad driving habits with the end of daylight saving time on November 1, says AAA Northeast. While the time change brings an initial extra hour of sleep, drivers need to be focused on the road and prepared for earlier sunsets.
The dangers of drowsy driving and the challenges of driving in the dark are always present but never more so than when drivers suddenly find changing conditions.
A AAA Northeast analysis of crash data from 2015 to 2019 shows that Massachusetts drivers are more likely to crash immediately after clocks are moved back. In the two weeks following the time change, there was a 65 percent increase in crashes during the 5 p.m. hour. During the same period, there was an increase of more than 400 percent in pedestrian crashes during the 5 p.m. hour – a more-than five-fold increase.
“Drowsy driving is a significant traffic safety issue,” said Mary Maguire, Director of Public and Legislative Affairs for AAA Northeast. “ Americans ‘falling back’ by moving their clocks back by one hour may think they are gaining an extra hour of sleep, but they need to remember to monitor their sleep schedule to prevent drowsiness on the road.”
The time change can lead to disrupted circadian rhythms and loss of sleep. According to AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety research, losing one to two hours of sleep doubles your crash risk, and an individual operating a vehicle with five hours of sleep or less in a 24-hour period faces the same crash risk as someone driving drunk.
Although the end of daylight saving time highlights the dangers of drowsy driving, it’s a major problem no matter the time of year. According to the AAA Northeast analysis, more than 9,500 drowsy driving crashes were reported in Massachusetts between 2015 and 2019 where “fatigued/sleep” was listed as a contributing circumstance.
That’s equivalent to a crash involving drowsy driving every five hours. Of those crashes, more than 3,700 involved injuries – or 40 percent of drowsy driving crashes.
And human beings are slow to adapt to new sleep patterns. The analysis showed that four weeks following the time change between 2015 and 2019, the increase in crashes remained elevated with a 54 percent increase in crashes during the 5 p.m. hour and a 288 percent increase in pedestrian crashes.
According to AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety research:
- Ninety-six percent of motorists view drowsy driving as very or extremely dangerous, but 24% admitted to driving when they were so tired that they had a hard time keeping their eyes open at least once in the previous 30 days before the survey (2019 Traffic Safety Culture Index).
- Drivers who have slept for less than 5 hours have a crash risk comparable to someone driving drunk.
- Drivers who miss one to two hours of sleep can nearly double their risk for a crash.
AAA recommends that drivers:
- Should not rely on their bodies to provide warning signs for drowsiness and should instead prioritize getting at least seven hours of sleep before hitting the road.
- Travel at times of the day when they are normally awake.
- Avoid heavy foods.
- Avoid medications that cause drowsiness or other impairment.
Driving in the Dark & Headlights
“Dark conditions can make it harder to see when driving. Lack of visibility can make for unsafe driving conditions. As we adjust to the end of daylight savings time, it’s a good time to check the illumination of your headlights,” Maguire said.
- With 50% of crashes occurring at night, drivers should check their headlights for signs of deterioration and invest in new headlights or, at a minimum, a low-cost service visit to boost the safety of driving after dark.
- Headlights can show signs of deterioration after 3 years but most commonly by year 5.
- AAA suggests drivers check their headlights for changes in appearance such as yellowing or clouding. If the bulb is difficult to see, it is time to have the lens replaced or restored as soon as possible.
- Replacement and restoration services are available at most repair shops, including AAA Approved Auto Repair facilities.
- Do-it-yourself restoration offers some savings for consumers, is relatively simple, and provides a sufficient improvement in light output.
- Make sure headlights are correctly re-aimed to maximize forward lighting performance and minimize glare to oncoming and preceding drivers.
- Compensate for reduced visibility by decreasing your speed and increasing following distance to four or more seconds behind the car in front of you.
- Older drivers should recognize that at age 60 it takes three times more light to see the roadway than it did at age 20, and if possible plan driving times accordingly.
- Keep your eyes moving. Do not focus on the middle of the area illuminated by your headlights. Watch for sudden flashes of light at hilltops, around curves, or at intersections, because these may indicate the presence of oncoming vehicles.
- Look at the sides of objects. In the dim light, focus on the edges or outlines of objects. Your eyes can pick up images more sharply this way than by looking directly at the object.
- Avoid being blinded by oncoming high beams. If the driver of an oncoming vehicle fails to dim the lights, look down toward the right side of the road. You should be able to see the edge of the lane or the white-painted edge line and stay on course until the vehicle passes.