Driver fatigue is a well-recognized cause of motor vehicle accidents, injuries, and fatalities. Most often we probably think of long-haul truckers and graveyard-shift workers when the term “driver fatigue” comes up, but there is a twice per year ritual that apparently exposes all of us to an increased risk of vehicle crashes due to driver fatigue. Simply put, daylight saving time kills.
Although proposals for the shifting of our clocks that became daylight saving time have been around for centuries, they first came into common use in North America and Europe in times of crisis during the 20th century, especially World War I, World War II, and the energy crisis in the 1970s. The main argument in favor of daylight saving time has been that during the summer months, when hours of daylight are much longer in temperate regions in the Northern Hemisphere, moving clocks forward an hour would allow people to experience an extra hour of waking, daylight time — thereby avoiding the increased use in energy that occurs during waking, nighttime hours. The advantages and disadvantages continue to be a source of argument, but a recent study that finds daylight saving time kills may add a significant point to counter the practice to which approximately one-and-one-half billion people are exposed each year.
Daylight Saving Time Kills
An economics PhD candidate in the United States recently presented a paper to the American Economic Association in which he described his analysis of motor vehicle accident statistics as compared to the dates for the bi-annual clock shifts. His results are stark — over a period of 6 days immediately following the spring time change (in which clocks are “sprung forward”) motor vehicle accident fatalities increase by 6 percent. On a nationwide basis, this is a large number of fatal incident. No similar change was seen in accident statistics following the autumn time change (in which clocks “fall back”), perhaps because we lose an hour of sleep in the spring but gain an hour in the autumn.
The author of the paper also notes that more study needs to be done looking at possible reductions in motor vehicle crashes during summertime daylight saving time hours when there is an extra hour of daylight-condition driving time each evening. But at least for the week or so after the spring change, daylight saving time kills, and we should be especially alert to other drivers and our own levels of fatigue.
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