The end of daylight saving time can feel like a gift: we call it an extra hour of sleep, though few people actually spend it that way. Truth is, that extra hour comes with a price: a shift in your circadian clock can make it harder to adjust your morning routine and get to bed on time. And for people commuting home from first shift or going to work on second shift, it can mean more hours of driving at dusk or at night. Depth perception, color recognition and peripheral vision can be compromised in the dark, and the glare of headlights from an oncoming vehicle can temporarily blind you.
Night driving poses specific risks
Studies show the risk of a fatal crash is three times greater at night. With high-beam headlights on, visibility is limited to about 500 feet (250 feet for normal headlights), creating less time to react to something in the road.
At 45 m.p.h., it only takes eight seconds to drive 500 feet: at 55 m.p.h., it takes just six seconds to outrun your brights. So having your vehicle prepared and being alert are of primary importance.
What can you do to stay safer while driving, especially after dark?
- Always wear your seat belt and make sure every passenger is belted before taking your car out of Park
- Do not use your cell phone at all while driving; hands-free is just as distracting as handheld
- Do not drive if you are impaired by alcohol, over-the-counter or prescription drugs, or drowsiness
- Teen drivers often have less experience driving at night and are especially vulnerable; see resources at DriveItHOME.org to keep them safe on the road
- Slow down to compensate for limited visibility and reduced stopping time
- Clean your headlights and make sure they’re aimed correctly
- Dim your dashboard and look away from oncoming lights
- Get seven to nine hours of sleep a night
- Avoid driving if you’ve been awake for 16 hours or more
- Pull over and take a nap if you’re drowsy
- Travel during times you are normally awake
Stay alert to stay alive
A National Sleep Foundation poll says 60% of adults have driven while they were tired, and another 37%, or 103 million people, have fallen asleep at the wheel. Of those, 13% say they fall asleep while driving at least once a month, and 4% say they have caused a crash by falling asleep while driving. The reasons are many – shift work, lack of quality sleep, long work hours, sleep disorders – and it doesn’t only happen on lengthy trips.
These staggering numbers are backed up by a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report that 72,000 police-reported crashes were a result of drowsy driving in 2015. Most crashes or near-misses happen at the times you would expect drivers to be tired: midnight to 6 a.m. and late afternoon, when your circadian clock signals your body that it’s time to rest. The end of daylight saving time means that late afternoon hours are often dusk or dark, so extra vigilance is needed.
Drowsy driving puts everyone on the road at risk. Losing two hours of sleep has the same effect on driving as having three beers, and drivers are three times more likely to be in a car crash if they are fatigued.
While we do only a quarter of our driving at night, 50% of traffic deaths happen at night. It doesn’t matter whether the road is familiar or not, driving at night is always more dangerous. An estimated 40,000 people have died on our roads in each of the last two years, but zero is the only acceptable number. Learn more about driving at night and the dangers of drowsy driving at nsc.org.