For more than a century we’ve changed our clocks to fall back or spring forward to adjust to seasonal daylight changes. And more than a few of us complain that the time difference is killing us. Sure, the phrase is an exaggeration to help us cope with change, but a 2020 study reveals there might be some truth to the statement.

Researchers evaluated the number of motor vehicle accidents in the fall and spring when Daylight Savings Time (DST) changes occur. Their findings are eye opening.

  • Traffic accident risk increases the week following the spring DST transition.
  • There is no noticeable increase in accident risk during the fall DST transition.
  • Researchers theorize that 28 fatal traffic accidents could be prevented annually by eliminating DST.

How Does Daylight Savings Time Affect Drivers?

Rest. Or, lack of rest, is the primary reason driving the increase in accident risk. The time change during the spring means most people lose sleep because they typically go to bed at their usual time but get up an hour earlier. Researchers believe sleep deprivation directly affects driver alertness.

In fact, the jump in fatal accidents reviewed during the spring DST transition occurred on weekdays between 6am and 8am—when people are driving to work. Researchers did not find the same results during the evening drive home when workers are not as sleep deprived.

Another study shows an increase in heart attacks and strokes during the first two days after the DST transition. Researchers say disruption in circadian rhythm can impair focus and judgement, two extremely important characteristics drivers must have to remain safe on the roads.

How Do I Know If I’m Sleep Deprived?

Being drowsy can slow your reaction time and may hinder your concentration and attention. Your eyes become tired, so you do not see what you would ordinarily see. Driving under any of these conditions can be disastrous.

Here are some warning signs that you may be drowsy or sleep deprived:

  • An inability to recall the last few miles traveled
  • Disconnected or wandering thoughts
  • Difficulty focusing or keeping your eyes open
  • Your head feels heavy
  • Drifting from the lane in which you are driving
  • Yawning repeatedly
  • Missing traffic signs

How Can I Avoid Increased Risk Caused by Drowsy Driving?

The answer again is rest. It’s best to ease your body into the DST transition rather than undergo an abrupt shift in schedule.

Follow these tips from the Mayo Clinic to help you adjust to the spring DST change:

  • Go to bed an hour earlier if possible. A consistent sleep schedule where you get at least 7-8 hours of sleep is important for your health. If that change is not doable for your schedule, go to bed 15 or 20 minutes earlier. Any extra rest time will be helpful.
  • Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine before bedtime because they can affect the quality of your sleep.
  • Stay away from heavy meals before bedtime. You may feel discomfort that will keep you awake.
  • Keep your bedroom dark so your internal clock knows its time to go to sleep.
  • Avoid watching TV or interacting with your phone before bedtime. Light-emitting screens can negatively affect your sleep pattern.

Don’t become a statistic. If you feel tired, pull over, get rest, and drive safely. For more information about the dangers of driving drowsy, including how a defensive driving course can help you decrease collision risk, click here.