It is one of the earliest signs of spring and a “rite of spring” (Le Sacre du Printemps). It is a delicate ballet involving our circadian rhythm. It is all so biological. Our 24-hour internal clock could find itself a tad out of sync this weekend, as we “spring forward” and sacrifice an hour of sleep. The effects of one less hour of sleep could last for weeks. You can’t fool your hypothalamus, and you shouldn’t fool around with your sleep/wake cycle. Daylight Saving Time officially begins at 2 a.m. Sunday, March 10, and while changing the clocks might be a welcome step toward spring, AAA says the transition puts both self-deprived drivers and pedestrians at greater risk.
The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety has released the most in-depth drowsy driving research ever conducted in the U.S, using footage of everyday drivers, which found drowsy driving is a factor in about 10 percent of all crashes – that is eight times higher than previous federal estimates. However, a survey of college students reveals they may not fully grasp the safety risks sleepiness poses behind the wheel.
“There are two factors contributing to the increased risk following Daylight Saving Time - drowsiness and darkness,” said Kurt E. Gray, Director, Driver Services, AAA Mid-Atlantic. “It’s critical that both drivers and pedestrians are aware of these dangers. Some telltale signs of drowsy driving include trouble keeping your head up, difficulty focusing, frequent blinking and heavy eyelids, and yawning frequently. Other signs include being unable to remember the last few miles you’ve driven, missing exits or traffic signs, drifting from your lane, swerving or tailgating.”
Maryland was one of four states to receive a $15,000 grant “to create information campaigns about the dangers of drowsy driving.” Maryland focused its grant efforts on creating a drowsy driving prevention campaign for healthcare providers, “a group particularly at-risk for fatigued driving due to working long, irregular hours.” The grant was awarded by the Governors Highway Safety Association during 2017. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 795 fatalities (2.1 percent of total fatalities) involved a drowsy driver in 2017. “Drivers who miss just one or two hours of the recommended seven hours of sleep in a 24-hour period nearly double their risk for a crash,” Gray said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that 35 percent of U.S. drivers sleep less than the recommended minimum of seven hours daily. In a recent related AAA Foundation survey, nearly all drivers (96 percent) say they view drowsy driving as a serious threat to their safety and a completely unacceptable behavior. However, 29 percent admitted to driving when they were so tired they had a hard time keeping their eyes open.
The other issue increasing risk with the time change is darkness. Sunrise in Washington, D.C. will be at 7:27 a.m. next Monday compared to 6:32 a.m. today. The Monday morning commute, and the morning commute for several weeks to come, will be much darker than what drivers are used to, a serious concern because 75 percent of pedestrian fatalities happen when it’s dark, according to the latest findings from the Governor’s Highway Safety Association (GHSA).
As most pedestrian fatalities occur in urban areas, the GHSA also examined changes in the number of pedestrian fatalities for the ten most populous U.S. cities. According to the GHSA, “The total number of pedestrian fatalities for the ten largest cities decreased by about 15 percent, from 2016 to 2017, but remained about 9 percent higher than in 2015.” There were 704 pedestrian fatalities in 2016 and 601 fatalities in 2017. Nationwide, “the GHSA projects that 6,227 pedestrian fatalities occurred in 2018, the highest number in nearly three decades.”
Previous research by the AAA Foundation found more than one-in-five (21 percent) fatal crashes involve driver fatigue. The Foundation estimated that “drowsy drivers could be involved in 328,000 crashes a year on average on U.S. roads, 6,400 of them fatal.” Yet the “actual numbers may be higher, because the data collected by police at crash scenes is incomplete and there is no universal definition or standard wording for drowsiness or fatigue on crash reports.” AAA offers motorists and pedestrians the following safety tips:
- Slow down, pay attention and eliminate all distractions.
- Watch out for pedestrians when backing up in parking lots or driveways.
- Sun glare can make it difficult to see so increase your following distance from the vehicle ahead of you and utilize your sun visor and invest in polarized sunglasses, as both can help reduce glare.
- Turn on your headlights to make yourself more visible during early morning and evening hours.
- Keep vehicle headlights and windows (inside and out) clean.
- Watch the high beams. Do not use high beams when other cars or pedestrians are around.
- Yield to pedestrians at crosswalks. Do not pass vehicles stopped at crosswalks.
- Know how medications affect your level of drowsiness. AAA and the AAA Foundation developed Roadwise Rx, a free and confidential online tool that generates personalized feedback about how the interactions between prescription, over-the-counter medicines and herbal supplements can affect safety behind the wheel.
- Cross at intersections or crosswalks - not in the middle of the street or between parked cars. Do not jaywalk.
- Avoid walking in traffic where there are no sidewalks or crosswalks. If you have to walk on a road that does not have sidewalks, walk facing traffic.
- Evaluate the distance and speed of oncoming traffic before you step out into the street.
- Wear bright colors or reflective clothing if you are walking near traffic at dawn, dusk and night. Carry a flashlight when walking in the dark.
- Allow extra time and distance for a vehicle to stop in inclement weather.While walking, pocket the cell phone and avoid listening to music at a volume that prohibits you from hearing approaching danger.
- Do not let umbrellas or jacket hoods block your view of approaching traffic.
In a related AAA Foundation survey, nearly all drivers (96 percent) say they view drowsy driving as a serious threat to their safety and a completely unacceptable behavior. However, 29 percent admitted to driving when they were so tired they had a hard time keeping their eyes open at some point in the past month.
AAA provides automotive, travel, and insurance services to 59 million members nationwide and nearly 80,000 members in the District of Columbia. AAA advocates for the safety and mobility of its members and has been committed to outstanding road service for more than 100 years. AAA is a non-stock, non-profit corporation working on behalf of motorists, who can now map a route, find local gas prices, discover discounts, book a hotel, and track their roadside assistance service with the AAA Mobile app (AAA.com/mobile) for iPhone, iPad and Android. For more information, visit www.AAA.com.