Daylight Savings Time is the time of year when the clocks spring forward and our internal clocks lag behind. Some consider the time shift a mere inconvenience resulting in only in one hour of lost sleep. However, that seemingly minor sleep disruption may cause unexpected consequences. Some studies indicate that “springing forward” results in sleep deprivation and changes in behavior that may increase the number of car accidents. These studies show that the incidence of car accidents increases on the Sunday of the time change, as well as the following Monday.
Based on 21 years of fatal car accident data from the US National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, researchers at Johns Hopkins University and Stanford University found that the number of deadly car accidents jumped to an average of 83.5 on the Monday after the DST time change, compared with an average of 78.2 on a typical Monday. Richard P. Allen, the Johns Hopkins neurologist overseeing the study, expressed surprise that one hour could make a difference.
Other studies examined whether sleep loss and behavioral changes resulting from the time shifts for Daylight Savings Time result in an increase in fatal car accidents. Sleep deprivation is one theory. Also, the longer day on the Sunday of the time change in the fall may result in late Saturday night/early Sunday morning impaired driving involving alcohol consumption. The lost hour of sleep and the time change may impact normal routines and daily schedules. People may be sleep-deprived on Monday because they’re still adjusting to the shift in time and their normal routines— as they would experience with jet lag.
Daylight Savings Time in the United States began with the need to conserve energy during World War I. It became a national standard in the 1960s. That drive to conserve resources, coupled with the 1973 oil embargo by OPEC, spawned an “experiment” with Daylight Savings Time in 1974. Congress extended Daylight Savings Time year-round in an effort to save energy. The Department of Transportation (DOT) evaluated the plan and reported slight benefits in areas of energy conservation, overall traffic safety and reduced violent crime. However, the DOT also reported that any benefits were minimal and could not be distinguished from normal seasonal variations and fluctuations in the cost of energy. Congress then asked the National Bureau of Standards (NBS) to evaluate the DOT report. NBS found no significant energy savings or differences in traffic fatalities. It did find, however, a statistically significant increase in fatalities among children going to school in the morning while it was still dark. NBS was unable to conclude whether the increase was due to Daylight Savings Time.
While there remains some dispute as to whether there is a connection between car accidents and Daylight Savings Time, the one hour time difference potentially impacts human behavior and responses. People should consider using extra caution in the time periods impacted by Daylight Savings Time.
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