Does the Rate of Car Accidents Increase After Daylight Savings Time?

Daylight savings time shifts the clocks an hour forward in Tennessee, starting on March 2 every year. This means it is dark for an extra hour in the morning, and light for an extra hour in the evening. Many people do not like the time change – especially those with early-morning commutes. Yet daylight savings time could be more than just an inconvenience. Statistically, it could increase the risk of a car accident.

Daylight Savings Time and Car Accident Statistics

One study from the University of Colorado at Boulder found that with the spring change comes a 6.3% increase in fatal car accidents, on average. Over a 10-year period, there were 302 deaths connected to daylight savings time. Unlike the fall time change, the spring transition comes with changes in both light and sleep mechanisms. The relocation of light within one day can create more dangerous morning driving conditions, as the lack of light on morning commutes is unusual.

The study also found that drivers sleep less on the day of the time change. Rather than taking the “lost” hour out of leisure time, most people take it out of their sleep schedules. Americans sleep an average of 40 minutes less during daylight savings time. This could impact sleep schedules for days or even weeks, depending on the individual. Lack of sleep due to the time change could contribute to a greater number of drowsy driving accidents after daylight savings time.

Previous studies into the connection between daylight savings time and car accidents found mixed results. Some found an increase in accidents the Monday after the time change, while others found no significant effect. However, these studies were from the 1980s and 1990s. Since then, sleep quality in the U.S. has declined, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Therefore, the odds are higher today that drivers experience drowsiness after daylight savings time.

The Risks of Drowsy Driving

Daylight savings time removes one hour from the day – an hour most people take from their sleep on March 2. Drowsy driving is just as dangerous as drunk driving, according to the National Safety Council. Driving after spending 20 hours awake is the equivalent of driving with a blood alcohol content level of 0.08%. If drivers have trouble adjusting to the time change and it negatively impacts their sleeping habits, this could translate into dangerous drowsy drivers and an increased risk of car accidents.

Combined with the risk of drowsy drivers, the significant change in morning light conditions during daylight savings time can be deadly. Sleepy drivers commuting in the dark when normally they are driving in brighter morning light can be disorienting or lull a driver to sleep. Changes in lighting over the course of one day could be enough to cause a fatal car accident. Some studies suggest that eliminating daylight savings time could save lives by preventing motor vehicle fatalities.

Stay Safe During Daylight Savings Time

This March, increase your safety on the roads after the time change by ensuring you get ample sleep. Go to bed an hour early to ensure you do not take the missing hour from your sleep schedule. Be extra alert while driving the next morning, as well as every morning for at least a week after the time change. Use your headlights in the mornings if you are driving before sunrise, especially if you usually drive during daylight.

Pay attention to the road and watch for drivers who are weaving, drifting, or breaking roadway rules. They could be drowsy and dangerous. If you get into an accident soon after daylight savings time, the other driver could be liable for damages if he or she was driving drowsy, or if the lack of morning light caused him/her to drive negligently.