On Sunday, March 13, we will all move our clocks forward one hour, in compliance with the daylight saving’s program. Along with the extra hour of daylight that we will get at the end of each day, there will also be a likely spike in the number of fatal car accidents.
A recent study in the journal of Current Biology found that the risk of having a fatal accident in the week following the clock change was 6% higher than the weeks either before or after.
“Our study provides additional, rigorous evidence that the switch to daylight saving time in spring leads to negative health and safety impacts,” remarked the study’s author, Professor Celine Vetter. “These effects on fatal traffic accidents are real, and these deaths can be prevented.”
The study found that sleep deprivation and a disruption of the circadian rhythm that regulates our sleep-wake cycles may cause the increase in fatal car accident risk.
Drowsy Driving Is Like Driving Under the Influence
This lack of sleep can lead to drowsy driving. Drowsy driving is similar to driving under the influence, as both have an impact upon how well you make decisions and your reaction time.
“The sudden change in clock time can disrupt your sleep pattern, leading to a decrease in total sleep time and reduced sleep quality. This sleep disruption can reduce daytime alertness,” stated Dr. Kelly Carden, President of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
The research also did not find there to be a similar increase in fatal accidents when we transition back to standard time in the fall, a time when we get an “extra” hour of sleep.
New York State Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said, “Driving while drowsy is extremely dangerous and can put the lives of the driver, passengers, and others on the road in peril. We urge New Yorkers to make sure to get enough sleep while adjusting to the time change to take extra precautions when getting behind the wheel.”
How to Minimize Car Accident Risk for Spring Forward
What can we do? In order to minimize the risk, health experts suggest easing into the time change, maintaining a regular sleep cycle, minimizing nighttime light exposure from phones, laptops, and television, and avoiding heavy meals, coffee, and alcohol before bed.