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Save lives, not daylight hours

Forget about setting our clocks back an hour each fall and let us just concentrate on driving and safety

By Sami Haj-Assaad Wheels.ca

Oct 23, 2022 4 min. read

Article was updated a month ago

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I’ve wasted countless hours doing something meaningless. From scrolling (and contributing to) social media, to rearranging couch cushions, window shopping and more, there’s been plenty of time I’ve done something useless instead of something important.

But sleep, that’s not on the list. Deny me as much as an hour of sleep and you’re guaranteeing some kind of chaos.

Fortunately, I’m not the only one saying that. Research shows that those with disrupted or shortened sleep schedules are at a higher risk of being involved in a traffic accident. It’s recommended for drivers to get between seven and nine hours of sleep every 24 hours, and to have a somewhat regular pattern of sleep.

So why do we still change our clocks twice a year for daylight saving time? Every spring, we set our clocks an hour ahead and lose an hour of sleep. Data suggests this small change can significantly increase the risk of accidents on our roads.

Springing forward disrupts drivers' sleep patterns, which reduces situational awareness, reaction times, impacts decision-making, focus and even vision on the road. Drowsy driving factors into 21 per cent of all car accidents in the country, and daylight savings potentially injects sleepy, drowsy and underprepared drivers on the road.

The time change also introduces glare from the sun during the commute. It’s no surprise that traffic accidents increased by 23 per cent on the Monday following springing forward according to the Occupational Safety Group, which trains businesses about health and safety.

Drivers that know about the impact of daylight saving time might leave earlier to anticipate higher commuting time, but what about the impact of switching our clocks back to return to standard time each fall? According to a 2001 study that analyzed 22 years of U.S. crash data, there’s also an increase in fatal accidents after that time change.

During standard time, from fall to spring, the frequency of accidents on the weekend increases, compared to daylight saving time, from spring to fall, when accidents tend to occur on the weekdays.

The hazards occurring between fall and spring tend to involve more pedestrians, too, as the daylight hours impact the visibility of both pedestrians and motorists.

One U.S. study conducted in 2007 reported that there were more deaths in the evening hours of November than compared to October. Pedestrians saw a 186 per cent increase in risk per mile during the fall time change, it found.

Drivers may be more rested, but the driving conditions during November mornings are fairly dark, requiring strong situational awareness in inclement weather, and properly functioning headlights.

Is this all due to the time change? Maybe infrastructure isn’t helping with situational awareness. You might have noticed that streets are lined with new streetlights that use energy-efficient LED bulbs, which require less maintenance but seem less bright than old ones. Due to a manufacturing defect, some of these streetlights are even glowing purple, as reported in Vancouver this month, further impacting visibility during a critical time of the year.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has calculated that switching to a year-long standard time would help save 200 deaths a year in the U.S.

The easy answer to prevent these issues is to give up daylight savings. Saskatchewan and Yukon both stick to one time all year long, while countries around have stopped the practice of changing the time. Stopping the practice is said to do more than just improve traffic safety. There are convincing arguments and research that says this practice results in an increase in heart attacks, strokes and cardiac arrest, not to mention less serious concerns like workplace injuries and a loss of productivity.

In 2020, Ontario passed Bill 214, The Time Amendment Act, to help make daylight saving time a permanent fixture and abolish the need to change our clocks. However, since then, the province decided it can’t make this change alone, and is seeking support from Quebec and New York State to finalize the change. These partners have stagnated, leaving Ontarians to wait and see.

It’s a strange hesitation to see, given the overwhelming evidence that suggests that it’s not only unnecessary but unsafe. While far from a simple change, it’s certainly one that could save lives and improve the quality of our commutes.

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