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Daylight Savings Time: The Danger of Drowsy Driving


Daylight savings, or at least the idea of it, has existed for centuries. It is thought to have originated with an essay written by Ben Franklin in 1784. The idea was not advocated seriously, however, until a London builder named William Willett wrote a pamphlet titled “Waste of Daylight,” in 1907. But it wasn’t until 1916 that Great Britain followed Germany’s lead and adopted “Summer Time” in order to save energy during WWI. By WWII, the energy saving benefits of Summer Time were firmly recognized and clocks in Britain were put two hours ahead during the summer months. This became known as Double Summer Time. Clocks were kept one hour ahead during the winter months.

The U.S. did not adopt Daylight Savings Time, or DST, until March 19, 1918. DST was unpopular in the U.S., and the law enacting it was repealed in 1919 after the end of WWI. During WWII, President Roosevelt instituted year-round DST, called “War Time,” from 1942-1945. After WWII ended in 1945, with no federal law in place regarding DST, states and localities were free to choose whether they wanted to observe DST or not, and if they did, when it began and ended. This created a lot of confusing time zones across the U.S., and even within some states. Thus the Uniform Time Act of 1966 created DST beginning on the last Sunday in April and ending on the last Sunday in October, and allowed states to be exempt only if they passed a state law specifying that they were opting out.

In 2005, the Energy Policy Act extended DST by four weeks beginning in 2007. Clocks would move forward one hour on the second Sunday in March, and back one hour on the first Sunday in November. In most of the countries of Western Europe, including countries that are members of the European Union, DST begins on the last Sunday of March and ends on the last Sunday of October (i.e. the way DST was prior to the 2005 extension).


Although studies conflict about the amount of energy saved by DST, there does appear to be some overall energy conservation. The controversy over DST, however, is the mounting evidence of its effect on health and safety. In 1999, researchers at Johns Hopkins and Stanford Universities analyzed 21 years of data from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration. They found that there was an increase in car accidents on the Monday after DST in the spring, and to a lesser extent, for the few days after that. These findings seemed to corroborate a 1996 Canadian study which found an increase in accidents of approximately 8% following the “spring forward” of DST. Great Britain found a similar increase in accidents.

Studies have also found an increased incidence of heart attacks in the first few days after clocks are set forward.

The researchers were surprised to find any effect of such a small time change, let alone an effect as pronounced as the increase in car accidents. But the potentially catastrophic results of driving drowsy have long been understood by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC has long warned about sleep deprivation and its effect on driving, comparing sleep-deprived driving to drunk-driving. Because so many Americans are on the verge of being sleep-deprived or are actually sleep-deprived, losing an hour of sleep when the clocks are moved forward in the spring for DST can produce disastrous results for drivers on their Monday morning commutes to and from work.


The CDC compares drowsy driving to driving while intoxicated because in both cases, a driver’s reaction time is slower, meaning it will take longer for a driver to brake before or steer away from an obstacle in the road, for example. Drowsiness, like alcohol, affects a driver’s ability to make good, quick judgments about the road and what actions need to be taken in response to weather and traffic conditions.

Drowsy driving is disturbingly common: 1 in 25 adult drivers (18 years and older) report having fallen asleep while driving in the previous 30 days. The National Highway Transportation Safety Association estimates that drowsy driving was responsible for 72,000 crashes, 44,000 injuries, and 800 deaths in 2013—and these are very conservative estimates. Some researchers estimate that fatal crashes due to drowsy driving could be as high as 6,000. A report released in December 2016 by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety suggests that drivers who sleep only five or six hours in a 24-hour period are twice as likely to crash as drivers who get seven hours of sleep or more. The study went on to say that drivers who get only four to five hours of sleep had four times the crash rate—a rate similar to that of drunk drivers.


If you notice yourself or the driver of a car in which you are a passenger engaging in any of the following behaviors, pull over at a rest stop or at the nearest safe location:

1. Frequent yawning or blinking;

2. Missing your exit or turns;

3. Drifting from your lane;

4. Hitting a rumble strip on the side of the road.


If you or someone you know is injured in a motor vehicle accident, contact Dave Thomas at The Thomas Law Firm for a free consultation regarding your legal rights.

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