As we noted in our last post, this past weekend marked the end of Daylight Savings Time. Setting clocks back by an hour seems to be less immediately disruptive to our bodies than losing an hour in the spring, but it is still a change to our biological rhythms nonetheless. And while a one-hour shift may not seem significant, it can be far more disruptive than most people realize.
Research has shown that in the week following the beginning or end of DST, America sees a measurable rise in car accidents, a measurable decrease in productivity and even a rise in serious health events (like heart attacks). While it may be very difficult for detractors to get rid of this long-standing tradition, it is at least possible to use DST as a learning opportunity to improve public safety. Law enforcement and traffic safety organizations around the country (including here in California) have designated the first week of November as Drowsy Driving Prevention Week.
Drowsy driving isn’t primarily tied to daylight savings time. It happens whenever someone gets behind the wheel without enough sleep or rest. Most of us feel mentally foggy and slow thinking when tired, but it is easy to underestimate how much this impacts our driving abilities.
Losing just a couple hours of sleep could make you more likely to make a potentially injurious or damaging mistake on the road. And as sleep decreases, impairment increases. Studies have found that a person who has been awake for 24 consecutive hours is as impaired as a driver with a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.10 percent (which is above the threshold for legally drunk).
Long periods of driving also exacerbate the problem of drowsiness. Commuting to work when tired isn’t ideal, but going on a long car trip when drowsy is potentially disastrous. In addition to the impaired reaction time and reduced mental clarity, hours of highway driving can have a hypnotic effect that increases the risks of zoning out, falling asleep or making another potentially fatal mistake.
As you adjust to the time change, please make an extra effort to get enough sleep each night. And when you are behind the wheel, always drive defensively. You never know which other drivers may be impaired by their own drowsiness.