As drivers, we’ve been conditioned to recognize the safety issues inherent in “falling back” an hour to Standard Time each fall. But there are also real driving concerns with “springing forward” to Daylight Savings Time, as we will do at 2 AM this Sunday, March 10.
Multiple studies in both Canada and the U.S have shown dramatic increases in traffic collisions and fatalities, particularly on the Monday but extending for up to a week, following the change to DST.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the reason behind these statistics is the disruption to our circadian rhythms and sleep patterns. Circadian rhythms are our bodies’ daily cycles of hormones and activities and they don’t adapt instantly to an abrupt one-hour time change.
It’s a particular problem in our fast-paced society, where many of us are already chronically sleep-deprived. Add in changes in light – less in the morning; more in the evening – related to our routine activities and it can be a tough adjustment.
With those things in mind, here are five things you can do to help stay safe behind the wheel during this abnormal transition period.
1. Go to bed early
Go to bed earlier than usual on the night of the time change, and for a few nights before if you can. Starting that transition early can help put a little reserve in your “sleep bank” rather than just creating a sudden sleep deficit.
2. Allow extra time for your morning commute
Even though you’ll effectively be starting off an hour earlier, allow a few more minutes for your morning commute so you won’t be overstressed by the inevitable delays that are likely to occur.
3. Keep your distance
While it’s always good driving practice to maintain plenty of space around your vehicle, especially behind the vehicle ahead, be rigorous about doing so in this transitional time. Keep in mind that you’re not the only one who is probably overtired and cranky and give your fellow drivers a little extra leeway.
4. See and be seen
The light will be different from what you're used to, especially early in the morning, and the same will apply to other drivers aware. So make sure your lights are all working properly and keep them on – not just the DRLs! You need to see out, too, so clean all the windows, ensure washers and wipers are working well and, of course, clear all the ice and snow off your vehicle. Hey, it is still March!
One more thing: don’t forget to take sunglasses with you for the sun you may newly encounter on your return drive in the evening.
5. Don’t be distracted
Distraction and driving are never a good mix but that’s especially the case during this dangerous time. It’s not just a matter of avoiding cell-phone use while driving, although that should go without saying. Forego that cup of coffee or donut behind the wheel as well, and ignore the kids fighting in the back seat for once. Be ultra-aware of everything that’s going on around you and anticipate and prepare for what could happen.
Keep in mind that the drivers and pedestrians around you have spent the previous several months getting used to the light conditions as they were and they won't immediately adjust their behaviour to account for the changes either.