The switch to Daylight Saving Time raises driving hazards, but understanding the risks of sleep loss, regional factors, and accident trends can help motorists minimize dangers during the week when deadly crashes increase by 6%.

Comparison of Daylight Saving Time Changes

Spring Forward Fall Back
+1 hour Sunday in March -1 hour Sunday in November
Later sunrise, later sunset Earlier sunrise, earlier sunset
Clocks “spring” ahead Clocks “fall” back

What percentage does the rate of deadly car wrecks rise after the switch to Daylight Saving Time each March?

Research shows that the spring transition to Daylight Saving Time increases the average rate of fatal automobile accidents by 6% nationwide due to the one-hour loss of sleep. This sleep deprivation contributes to delayed reaction times, poor attention, and unsafe judgment calls among drivers.

First conceived by Benjamin Franklin, year-round Daylight Saving Time was instituted in 1966 to reduce electricity demand by extending sunlight deeper into the evening hours. Currently, it runs from 2:00 a.m. on the second Sunday in March through 2:00 a.m. on the first Sunday in November. Its disruption of chronobiological rhythms has raised doubts about its ongoing usefulness.

Besides Hawaii and Arizona, all states observe the bi-annual clock change. The fatigue it causes impairs motor skills and performance similar to being intoxicated. This danger persists for around a week after the “spring forward” transition until the body can adjust.

For many people, daylight saving means losing an hour in the spring and having to remember to reset clocks and timers. Most people adjust to the time change fairly quickly and do enjoy the extra hour of light on warm summer evenings. But the bi-annual time change can be a much bigger problem for some people who find it hard to adjust.

The original intention behind Daylight Saving Time (DST) was to conserve artificial energy by making better use of natural light in the evenings. However, with modern technology, there is little support left for DST actually making much difference in energy consumption.

What has become of greater concern in recent years is not so much how light it is in the morning or evening but rather how a sudden time change affects the natural rhythms of people, which results in increased instances of health issues, accidents, and injuries for several days following the time change.

Why do we Have Daylight Saving Time?

The concept of daylight saving is attributed to Benjamin Franklin sometime in the late 1700s, but Daylight Saving Time was not implemented in the United States until World War I. 

During the war, there was a need to conserve the fuel necessary to produce electric power. The idea was not popular and, except for a brief time again during World War II, daylight saving became a local option until the mid-1960s.

  • Without federal legislation, there was no uniformity and millions of Americans were observing daylight saving according to local customs. Congress passed the Uniform Time Act in 1966, which standardized Daylight Saving Time to begin on the last Sunday of April and end on the last Sunday of October. Individual states could opt out by passing their own laws.

Over the years, the length of Daylight Saving Time has been expanding with energy conservation as the motive. The current Daylight Saving Time period took effect in 2007.

Daylight Savings Time:

  • Begins at 2:00 a.m. on the second Sunday in March
  • Ends at 2:00 a.m. on the first Sunday in November

Problems Associated the Daylight Saving Time Change

The United States is one of about 70 countries that use Daylight Saving Time. All states except Hawaii and parts of Arizona set their clocks forward an hour in the spring and back an hour in the fall.

A one-hour time change may seem relatively inconsequential, but it turns out that it can really mess with a person’s overall health – especially for the first few days after springing forward in March.

  • Interrupted sleeping patterns are common as the body tries to adjust to the sudden change in its normal cycle. 

Many people get less sleep or are unable to sleep and then must try to operate normally while being sleep deprived. Other recorded negative effects of the bi-annual time change include increased incidents of heart attacks, strokes, and mood disorders.

Daylight Saving Time and Car Accident Frequency

When people are overly tired, they don’t think as clearly, and they don’t react as quickly. This is particularly a problem when it comes to driving.

According to a recent study published by Current Biology, the spring transition to Daylight Saving Time increases the risk of being in a fatal traffic accident by 6% in the United States.

The increased risk is due to a combination of sleep deprivation and the misalignment of the body’s biological rhythms in response to the one-hour change.

The study found that more motor vehicle accidents occurred in the mornings and in the westernmost portion of a particular time zone, where it stayed darker longer. But DST-related fatality car accidents also increased in the afternoon hours in spite of longer daylight. The increased crash risk dropped off about a week after the time change.

The Future of Daylight Saving Time

Having to switch time forward to Daylight Saving Time and then back to Standard Time in a year has long been criticized as being ineffective for conserving energy and more recently for the adverse effects it has on the human body.

Although some opponents of Daylight Saving Time would prefer to have more light in the mornings than the evenings, the majority of those who oppose a time change is in favor of extending Daylight Saving Time year-round.

In the last several years, close to 20 states – including Louisiana – have enacted legislation that would make Daylight Saving Time the new Standard Time. However, before any state is able to implement the changes, federal laws must be changed to authorize it.

Louisiana House Bill 132 became law in June of 2020 and states in part:

If the United States Congress amends 15 U.S.C. 260(a) to authorize states to observe daylight saving time year-round, the state shall adopt daylight saving time as the year-round standard time of the entire state and all of its political subdivisions.

On March 15, the US Senate passed the Sunshine Protection Act of 2021. The bill repeals the temporary period for Daylight Saving Time and makes DST the new Standard Time. If passed by the House and signed by the President, states that have enacted legislation to keep DST year-round will be able to implement the changes. 

States that have not decided whether to move to DST or remain on the current Standard Time will be forced to choose the time they wish to operate year-round. If passed, the bill will take effect in November of 2023.

How to Minimize the Effects of the Daylight Saving Time Change

While the future of bi-annual time changes is still uncertain, there are things a person can do to help minimize the impact. Health experts recommend preparing for the DST change several days in advance by:

  • Going to bed slightly earlier than usual
  • Getting up a bit earlier

Upon waking, exposure to bright light will help the body adjust to a new cycle. Avoiding bright light – TV, laptop, phone – during the hour before going to bed will help the body prepare for sleep.

Even people who don’t find the time change too bothersome should be aware of the increased risk of encountering a drowsy driver on their morning commute during the first few days after Daylight Saving Time begins each spring.

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