When you’re up and about later, be extra careful when behind the wheel of your car – or when walking down the street.
When you turn your clock back to Standard Daylight Time at 2am on Sunday, November 3rd, enjoy that extra hour’s sleep. But when you’re up and about later, be extra careful when behind the wheel of your car – or when walking down the street. Either way, you’re at increased risk of getting into a fatal car accident.
A seven-year study of nationwide traffic fatalities by researchers at Carnegie Mellon showed that during the initial few weeks after the return to standard time, there’s a 300% greater chance of pedestrians being struck and killed by cars. They found that the most risky time of day is 6pm, when you’re 3 times more likely to be hit by a car. Children, the elderly, and cyclists are at the greatest risk.
What causes this increased risk?
Researchers say that it’s not so much the darkness itself that results in accidents, but drivers’ slow adjustment to the earlier nightfall. Drivers returning home from work or engaging in their usual patterns are unaccustomed to driving in the dark in early evening, and may not take the safety precautions that they would later in the winter once they’ve become more accustomed to the dark.
Others say that the reason for the jump in fatal car accidents has to do with an increase in fatigue. Yes, we’re getting an extra hour sleep when the clocks fall back, but many people don’t actually use that extra hour to sleep. Instead they use that hour to extend their awake time and are therefore more sleepy the next day.
People may also feel more fatigued after the return to standard time because of the psychological effects of it getting dark earlier. We see that it’s dark outside and we start to feel tired, even though we ordinarily might not at that hour.
What can be done to increase our safety?
- Get some sleep. Make sure that you get plenty of rest during the weeks following the return to standard time. When you’re sleepy, you’re less likely to be alert – a dangerous thing for either a driver or a pedestrian.
- Drive slower. Cut your speed at dusk, particularly in school zones, near playgrounds or in areas of heavy congestion or foot traffic. Make a special effort to scan for pedestrians in the low light.
- Do not drive – or walk – distracted. Drivers should not chat on the cell phone, send or read text messages, read a map, or adjust your navigation system while the car is in motion. It’s simply too dangerous. Pedestrians also should remain attentive while on the streets. Don’t walk while texting, and if listening to music through headphones, keep the volume low enough to remain alert to the sounds around you. Be especially careful not to walk distracted at intersections, as that’s when the most accidents occur.
- Turn on your headlights. Drivers sometimes forget to turn their headlights on after the return to standard time, which reduces visibility. As soon as the darkness begins to fall, make sure that your headlights are switched on.
- Wear bright colors or reflective clothes. If it’s your habit to talk a walk or cycle in the evenings, make sure that you wear brightly-colored clothes that are easy to spot in low light. Parents should add reflective strips to their children’s clothing or make sure they wear a reflective vest or cap when playing outdoors or talking a walk in early evening.
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