One of the first signs of spring arrives this year at 2:00 AM on Sunday, March 8th when the clocks “spring forward” to daylight saving time. This annual time change effectively moves an hour of daylight from the morning to the evening, and costs millions of Americans an hour of sleep. While losing 60 minutes of shut-eye may not seem like a big deal, that one hour difference actually has some serious consequences for motorists.

According to new University of Colorado Boulder research, the risk of fatal vehicular crashes rises by 6% in the workweek following the spring time change, resulting in about 28 additional deaths each year. The study also found that the farther west a person lives in his/her time zone, the higher their risk of a deadly crash in the week after the switch to daylight saving time. What’s more, those living on the western edge of their time zone – who get less sleep than their eastern counterparts because of the delayed sunrise – see a spike in fatal accidents by more than 8%. The authors of the study believe, however, that the results actually underestimate the true risk increase to drivers because the data they examined only included accidents where a fatality was recorded.

The University of Colorado Boulder study suggests that the increased risk in fatal traffic crashes can be attributed to two factors:  the change in visibility in the early hours of the day, and the disruption to the 24-hour internal clock that regulates our bodies’ sleep-wake cycle, otherwise known as the circadian rhythm, which doesn’t adapt instantly to an abrupt one-hour time shift.

Adjusting to Daylight Saving Time

How the time change actually affects you depends on your own personal health, sleep habits, and lifestyle, but there are things you can do to help your body deal with the switch to daylight saving time:

  • Give yourself a jump start in adjusting to the time change. In the days leading up to the time change, try going to bed and waking up a bit earlier than usual to prepare your body for the hour you will lose.

  • Avoid coffee and other caffeinated beverages after lunchtime, especially a few days before and after the time change, as they can affect wakefulness. Alcohol also prohibits the body from getting quality sleep.

  • Expose yourself to lots of bright light during the waking hours as much as possible to help your body know it is time to be alert.

  • Practice good sleep hygiene by taking time to relax and unwind before bedtime; keeping your room cool, quiet and dark; exercising regularly (allow at least two hours between any exercise and bedtime); and, putting away your electronic devices and avoiding large meals within two to three hours before bedtime, to name a few.

Springing Forward with Safety

To help mitigate the dangers on the road associated with the spring time change, drivers should consider the following precautions:

  • Ensure your vehicle’s headlights, taillights, signals and auxiliary lights are clean and in good working order (refer to §396.13 Driver inspection). Make sure headlights are properly aligned, windows are cleaned, and mirrors are adjusted for optimal visibility. If you wear glasses, give them a good cleaning too before driving.

  • Eliminate distractions to help keep your focus on the task of driving. Finish eating; secure and store away all loose items, and adjust the vehicle’s systems and controls before heading out.

  • Adjust to the new low-light environment in the early hours of the day by reducing your speed and increasing your following distance. Doing so will allow you more time to distinguish objects, spot pedestrians, and judge distances and speeds of other vehicles, and react to them.

  • Keep a keen eye out for pedestrians, bicyclists and scooter riders. Approach intersections and crosswalks with care, particularly in the darker early morning hours. Children can be difficult to see, so pay extra attention in school zones and residential areas, as well as near playgrounds and parks.

  • Be prepared for sun glare during the evening rush hours. Wear quality sunglasses with polarized lenses and UV protection to help reduce the glare and eye fatigue. Lower the vehicle’s sun visors to help block some of the reflected light.

  • Remain aware of how your body adjusts to the time change in the first few weeks after the clocks are reset, and do all you can to combat fatigue while on the road. Exercise regularly and eat a healthy diet, including a nutritional breakfast daily. Ensure your vehicle is well ventilated, and take breaks every two to three hours to walk around, stretch and get fresh air. Use medications with care, and don’t rely on caffeine as a substitute for sleep. Get seven to nine hours of restful sleep every day, and avoid driving during a body’s down time, whenever possible.

While there is no “magic formula” for adjusting to the time change, ultimately, the responsibility for safe driving rests upon your shoulders. Avoid becoming part of the statistics by staying vigilant, keeping your speed in check, and maintaining plenty of space around your vehicle. And remember, while you may be doing all you can to mitigate the dangers associated with the spring time change, you’ll be surrounded by other drivers who are not. Buckle up and drive defensively!

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