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Daylight Saving Time's Deadly Impact


Here we are again, in Daylight Saving Time. We spring forward, trading an hour of sleep for an extra hour of daylight. While many of us appreciate having the sun set an hour later, most of us do not like the havoc setting our clocks ahead wreaks on our sleep cycles for the first week or so of DST. In fact, this disruption to sleep cycles has been shown to cause an increased risk of fatal traffic crashes for the first six days of DST. A study at the University of Colorado, Boulder, that looked at the first six days of DST over a period of ten years reported that there were 302 deaths with an associated cost of $2.75 billion dollars in that time frame. Another study found a 17% increase in traffic fatalities on the Monday after the DST shift. Some of the reason for the increase in traffic accidents and fatalities is due to lower visibility; morning rush hours are one hour earlier and therefore darker. But the main reason is that the disruption to sleep cycles leaves drivers drowsy, and drowsy drivers are as dangerous as distracted drivers or impaired drivers.

Does a change of only one hour to our collective sleep schedule really make much of a difference to traffic safety? According to a study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic, the impact of DST has an inverse relationship with the amount of sleep a person gets; i.e. the less sleep a person gets, the greater the increase in risk of traffic accidents immediately following the DST switch. People who get 6-7 hours of sleep a night are twice as likely to be involved in a traffic accident in the days following “spring forward” as those who sleep 8 hours or more a night. People who get 5 or fewer hours of sleep a night are 4-5 times as likely to be involved in a traffic accident in the days after DST.


So when did all this madness start and why do we continue it? DST was at first a war-time phenomenon; it began during WWI to save resources, and was re-established during WWII for the same purpose. But after WWII ended, it…did not. In 1966 Congress adopted uniform DST, and various amendments since then have extended it. In 2007, DST was made a month longer by beginning it on the second Sunday in March and ending it on the first Sunday in November.

Most people like the extra daylight hours during DST, but the consensus is that DST does not save on energy costs by pushing the daylight hours to the evenings. Added to the list of cons are the increase in traffic accidents around the DST switch noted above, and the loss of productivity due to sleep disruption.

Due to the fact that in the fall we lose daylight and in the spring we lose sleep, and both losses have significant effects on our safety and economy, 21 state legislatures are debating the merits of keeping DST year round or eliminating it all together in favor of standard time (Georgia is not among these states however). Arizona and Hawaii have opted out of DST and stay on standard time year round. Although this option avoids the pitfalls of fall back/spring forward, it deprives people of an extra hour of sunlight in the spring and summer evenings, which retailers maintain hurts their businesses since people tend to shop or patronize establishments in the evenings after work or on weekends. Fewer evening daylight hours could also mean decreased outdoor activity after work and school, since outdoor sports and exercise also tend to see an uptick in the spring and summer months during DST.

It is for these reasons that many people advocate for keeping DST year round. The fall back/spring forward is still avoided, which means that the disruption to sleep cycles will not occur and therefore there will not be an increase in drowsy drivers on the road causing a spike in traffic fatalities. But the extra hour of daylight in the evenings will be preserved, making retailers and sports enthusiasts very happy.


If you or someone you know has been involved in a motor vehicle accident, contact Dave Thomas at The Thomas Law Firm for a free consultation of your legal rights.

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