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As the calendar inches along, another seasonal tradition approaches: the spring time change. On Sunday, March 10th, at 2:00 AM, clocks across the country will make their annual leap forward, signaling the start of longer days and shorter nights. While the one-hour shift in time may seem like a small change, it can actually cause sleep disruptions for many people and pose serious risks to motorists across the U.S.

A 2020 study from the University of Colorado Boulder reveals that fatal vehicular crashes rise by 6% in the week after the spring time change, causing approximately 28 additional deaths annually. Those residing farther west within their time zone face a higher risk, with a spike of over 8% in fatal accidents among individuals living on the time zone’s western edge due to the delayed sunrise. The study suggests that these findings may actually underestimate the true risk increase as only severe car accidents were examined. It attributes the heightened risk to two factors: changes in visibility during early hours of the day and disruption to the body's circadian rhythm caused by the abrupt time shift.

Adjusting to Daylight Saving Time

How the spring time change actually affects you depends on your own personal health, sleep habits, and lifestyle, but there are things you can do to help your body deal with the switch to daylight saving time:

  • Give yourself a jump start in adjusting to the spring time change. In the days leading up to the spring time change, try going to bed and waking up a bit earlier than usual to prepare your body for the hour you will lose.

  • Avoid coffee and other caffeinated beverages after lunchtime, especially a few days before and after the spring time change, as they can affect wakefulness. Alcohol also prohibits the body from getting quality sleep.

  • Expose yourself to lots of bright light during the waking hours as much as possible to help your body know it is time to be alert.

  • Practice good sleep hygiene by taking time to relax and unwind before bedtime; keeping your room cool, quiet and dark; exercising regularly (allow at least two hours between any exercise and bedtime); and, putting away your electronic devices and avoiding large meals within two to three hours before bedtime, to name a few.

Springing Forward with Safety

To help mitigate the dangers on the road associated with the spring time change, drivers should consider the following precautions:

  • Ensure your vehicle’s headlights, taillights, signals and auxiliary lights are clean and in good working order (refer to §396.13 Driver inspection). Make sure headlights are properly aligned, windows are cleaned, and mirrors are adjusted for optimal visibility. If you wear glasses, give them a good cleaning too before driving.

  • Eliminate distractions to help keep your focus on the task of driving. Finish eating; secure and store away all loose items, and adjust the vehicle’s systems and controls before heading out.

  • Adjust to the new low-light environment in the early hours of the day by reducing your speed and increasing your following distance. Doing so will allow you more time to distinguish objects, spot pedestrians, and judge distances and speeds of other vehicles, and react to them.

  • Keep a keen eye out for pedestrians, bicyclists and scooter riders. Approach intersections and crosswalks with care, particularly in the darker early morning hours. Children can be difficult to see, so pay extra attention in school zones and residential areas, as well as near playgrounds and parks.

  • Be prepared for sun glare during the evening rush hours. Wear quality sunglasses with polarized lenses and UV protection to help reduce the glare and eye fatigue. Lower the vehicle’s sun visors to help block some of the reflected light.

  • Remain aware of how your body adjusts to the spring time change in the first few weeks after the clocks are reset, and do all you can to combat fatigue while on the road. Exercise regularly and eat a healthy diet, including a nutritional breakfast daily. Ensure your vehicle is well ventilated, and take breaks every two to three hours to walk around, stretch and get fresh air. Use medications with care, and don’t rely on caffeine as a substitute for sleep. Get seven to nine hours of restful sleep every day, and avoid driving during a body’s down time, whenever possible.

While there is no “magic formula” for adjusting to the spring time change, ultimately, the responsibility for safe driving rests upon your shoulders. Avoid becoming part of the statistics by staying vigilant, keeping your speed in check, and maintaining plenty of space around your vehicle. And remember, while you may be doing all you can to mitigate the dangers associated with the spring time change, you’ll be surrounded by other drivers who are not. Buckle up and drive defensively!


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