One of the most anticipated “signs of spring” arrives this weekend when the clocks “spring forward” (Daylight Saving Time officially begins at 2:00 a.m. Sunday, March 8), causing us to lose an hour of our day in exchange for extended daylight hours throughout the summer. However, come Monday morning, the commute will look very different for school students waiting for buses and motorists driving to work – in the dark.
“Most people will see a dramatic difference during their morning commute starting on Monday, as roadways remain darker later into the morning, causing concern for drivers and pedestrians,” said Shawn Steward, spokesman for AAA Kansas. “Motorists and pedestrians, including school students waiting at bus stops, need to be aware of these dangers, remain alert, and minimize distractions to reduce the risk of vehicle crashes.”
Don’t Be Asleep at the Wheel
Drowsy driving is big traffic safety issue. The National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA) estimates that in 2017, 91,000 police-reported crashes involved drowsy drivers. These crashes led to an estimated 50,000 people injured and nearly 800 deaths nationwide. But there is broad agreement across the traffic safety, sleep science, and public health communities that this is an underestimate of the impact of drowsy driving.
Kansas Department of Transportation data from 2018 revealed that drivers being fatigued or falling asleep was cited as a contributing factor in nearly 1,000 traffic crashes in the state. Kansans “springing forward” by moving their clocks ahead one hour need to remember to also adjust their sleep schedule to prevent drowsiness on the road.
“A change in time can mean that drivers are more tired than they realize,” noted AAA Kansas’ Steward. “Drivers who miss one to two hours of the recommended seven hours of sleep in a 24-hour period nearly double their risk for a crash.”
According to AAA Foundation research:
- Drivers who have slept for less than 5 hours have a crash risk comparable to someone driving drunk.
- 96% of drivers view drowsy driving as a completely unacceptable behavior that is a serious threat to their safety, but nearly 29% admit to driving when they were so tired they had a hard time keeping their eyes open at least once in the prior 30 days.
AAA recommends that drivers:
- Should not rely on their bodies to provide warning signs for drowsiness and should instead prioritize getting at least seven hours of sleep before hitting the road.
- Travel at times of the day when they are normally awake.
- Avoid heavy foods.
- Avoid medications that cause drowsiness or other impairment.
- Use night setting on rear-view mirrors (if equipped) to reduce glare from headlights approaching from the rear.
- Improve visibility in the dark by cleaning headlights, tail lights, signal lights, and windows (inside and out); and ensuring headlights are properly aimed and kept on low beams, so as to not blind other drivers.
- Reduce speed and increase following distances, as it is more difficult to judge other vehicles’ speeds and distances at in the dark.
- Be mindful of pedestrians and crosswalks, yield the right of way to pedestrians in crosswalks and do not pass vehicles stopped at crosswalks. Never pass a school bus with its lights flashing and stop sign extended.
Moving clocks ahead one hour means it will be darker in the mornings for the next few weeks. It is important to remember that children will be on their way to school during this time, so drivers must remain vigilant. AAA recommends the following:
- Slow Down. Speed limits in school zones are reduced for a reason. A pedestrian struck by a vehicle traveling at 25 mph is nearly two-thirds less likely to be killed compared to a pedestrian struck by a vehicle traveling just 10 mph faster.
- Stay Alert. Drivers should always avoid distractions – especially using cell phones – while driving, but it’s particularly important in school zones and residential neighborhoods.
- Headlights. Turn on the vehicle’s daytime running lights or headlights—even during the day—so children and other drivers can see you more easily. But, don’t forget to turn them off when you reach your destination to maintain your battery life.