Daylight Saving Time (DST) is nearly here, which means that come 2:00 am on Sunday, March 11, Americans in the District of Columbia and all but two U.S. states (Hawaii and Arizona), will spring forward by turning their clocks one hour ahead. Although the time change has become an ingrained part of our lives, and a welcomed way to bring in the spring and summer months and longer days, studies have shown that the practice of adjusting our clocks may actually cause more harm than good – especially when it comes to safety on our roadways.
An idea once proposed by Benjamin Franklin to help conserve energy, Daylight Saving Time became federal law in 1966. Since then, Americans have made the bi-annual time change on the second Sunday of March, and the first Sunday in November. While more hours of daylight in the spring and summer is seen as one major benefit, there has been debate over DST and whether it should still be observed today. Many critics cite its minimal impact on conserving energy, especially with the improved efficiency of electric lighting, negative health effects associated with less early-morning sun, and an increase in car accidents noted in numerous studies.
As some of these studies show, Daylight Saving Time can have a significant impact on our roads:
- A 1999 study conducted by researchers at Stanford and Johns Hopkins Universities, which reviewed 21 years of car accident data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), found a significant increase in fatal wrecks, particularly on the Monday which follows the Sunday time change. The study noted that while typical Mondays saw an average of 78 deadly wrecks, that average rose to over 83 on the “spring forward” Monday.
- A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found an approximate 8% increase in non-fatal traffic accidents in the week following spring DST.
Data Highlights Dangers of Drowsy Driving
While studies show a small but significant increase in fatal and non-fatal accidents following Daylight Saving Time, those increased risks are highest on the first Monday after clocks are advanced forward, and slowly decrease over the following weeks. The greatest take-away from this data isn’t just that driving after DST is dangerous, but that even minor disruptions in our sleeping patterns can have an impact on our bodies and ability to drive safely.
As we have noted in many of our blogs, drowsy driving is a significant danger, and it plays a role in causing or contributing to thousands of accidents, injuries, and deaths on American roads each year. That’s because getting less than the recommended 7 hours of sleep in a night can compromise our ability to focus, situational awareness, reaction time, decision making, and other critical cognitive functions that help us drive safely. In fact, a report from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reveals just how dangerous drowsy driving is:
- Driving tired can be just as dangerous as driving drunk; motorists who get less than 5 hours of sleep in a single night are just as likely to crash as drivers with blood alcohol levels at or above the legal limit (.08).
- Less than 4 hours of sleep in a night has crash risks comparable to driving with a blood alcohol level nearly twice the legal lime (.12 – .15).
- Missing 1 to 2 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period can nearly double a driver’s crash risks.
The most significant problem with drowsy driving is that it is an accepted part of our lives. Although we regulate alcohol consumption and driving due to the risks it poses, we do not do the same for drowsy driving – in part because it’s so common. Over 35% of Americans today, especially working adults and teens, get less than the minimum 7 hours of sleep, the CDC reports. This means that many drivers on the road at any given time are chronically fatigued and at risk of drowsy driving.
Quality sleep is a critical component of our health, and it is important to understand that missing even a few hours of sleep in a given night can have big risks when you’re behind the wheel. As such, our team at Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel, P.C. wants to remind everyone about the importance of making sleep a priority, especially if you commute early in the morning or have longer drives or road trips planned this spring and summer. If you feel tire behind the wheel, or find yourself dozing off, pull off the road to get some rest. You can also make plans to carpool, switch off driving duties on longer trips, drink a caffeinated beverage, and avoid medications that can cause drowsiness. Public transportation is also an option when you feel your driving abilities are hindered by a lack of sleep.
Drowsy driving may not be treated the same way as drunk driving when it comes to criminal law, but it is a significant factor behind driver error and negligence, and it can have equivalent risks. Whether it leads to falling asleep at the wheel, running a stop sign or red light, or committing some other error or traffic infraction, drowsy driving is dangerous, and victims harmed in crashes caused by fatigued motorists who fail to safely operate their vehicles have the right to pursue personal injury cases against the at-fault driver, as well as a financial recovery of their damages.
We hope everyone enjoys the coming spring and summer months, and that you remember the importance of getting adequate sleep beyond the Monday following Daylight Saving Time. If you or someone you love has been injured in a wreck caused by a fatigued driver, or any negligent motorist, our award-winning personal injury lawyers can review your case anywhere throughout DC, Maryland, and Northern Virginia. Contact us for a FREE consultation.