By: Katie Behrens
In the early hours of yesterday morning, daylight savings time began. Although we only set our clocks back one hour, it can have a huge impact on our safety as drivers and pedestrians. As the sun’s position shifts, commuters are exposed to blinding glare during morning and evening commutes. This seemingly minor inconvenience can result in thousands of vehicle accidents each year.
Additionally, the shorter daylight hours during the winter season can significantly impact pedestrian safety, posing more risks and hazards to pedestrians. As a result of reduced daylight and longer hours of darkness, both drivers and pedestrians face challenges. There are tips you can follow to navigate these safety concerns effectively based on insights provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). By understanding these issues and implementing the suggested safety measures, everyone can enjoy a safer winter season.
Shift in the Sun’s Location
The Virginia Department of Transportation states that “sunrise and sunset will more closely align with morning and evening commuting hours. This means a large number of drivers will be headed right into the sun on their way to and from work — creating a blinding glare that is difficult to avoid” (Coleman, 10 News). Perhaps you are wondering whether sun glare makes such a significant difference. However, officials say that glare from the sun causing a halt in visibility is responsible for up to 9,000 vehicle crashes per year. This places sun glares in second place behind slick roads as the second leading environmental cause of crashes and pedestrian fatalities.
“For example, before daylight savings time in New York City, twilight starts at approximately 5:50 a.m. with sunrise occurring at 6:15 a.m. This early sunrise is typically before or during the early part of the rush hour commute. After daylight savings time begins, twilight starts at approximately 6:40 a.m. with sunrise at 7:10 a.m. This means that the sun is rising and could cause sun glare to commuters driving during rush hour commutes” (ARCCA: Experts in Forensic, Scientific, and Engineering Solutions).
Drivers can manage this situation by tweaking their commute times slightly to minimize the impact of sun glare or by investing in polarized sunglasses to reduce the intensity of sun glare on their eyes. Additionally, adjusting your daily routine can aid your body in staying alert during time adjustments. Professionals recommend being mindful of your caffeine intake following the time change, as excessive consumption can disrupt your sleep pattern. It usually takes about a week or more to completely adjust to the new light-dark cycle, so it’s advisable to plan your crucial tasks and schedules with this in mind to avoid immediate difficulties right after daylight savings time transitions.
The Impact of Reduced Daylight
Apart from the shift in the sun’s location during commutes, daylight savings time can also affect drivers as there is a noticeable change in daylight hours and prolonged periods of darkness. While many people may appreciate the cozy ambiance of a winter evening, the reduced visibility poses a significant threat to pedestrian safety. Shorter days with longer darkness hours can lead to a significant decrease in pedestrian safety according to the National Highway Administration (NHTSA).
The adjustment of time while disrupting sleep patterns coupled with the earlier onset of darkness during the evening can create a situation conducive to drowsy driving and accidents caused by fatigue. Many drivers may not be fully aware of these risks associated with the time change, “although underreported in government statistics, previous research by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety has estimated that 16% to 21% of all police-reported fatal vehicle crashes likely involve drowsy driving” (Northern Kentucky Tribune).
Put simply, longer darkness hours contribute to the decrease in the safety of pedestrians by affecting:
- Pedestrian Accidents: According to the National Highway Administration, reduced daylight during the winter months is associated with a substantial increase in pedestrian accidents. Pedestrians are more vulnerable during low-light conditions as it becomes difficult for drivers to see them, especially in urban areas where street lighting may not be adequate.
- Poor Visibility: During the shorter days of winter, poor visibility can be a key contributor to pedestrian accidents. The limited natural light, combined with adverse weather conditions like fog, rain, or snow, further reduces a driver’s ability to spot pedestrians. This makes it crucial for pedestrians to wear reflective clothing or carry lights to enhance their visibility during nighttime or early morning hours.
- Longer Reaction Times: The decreased daylight can lead to longer reaction times for drivers, as it takes them more time to identify pedestrians in dimly lit conditions. This delay in reaction time can be the difference between a near-miss and a tragic accident. The NHA highlights the importance of defensive driving and caution for both drivers and pedestrians during these periods.
- The Role of Adequate Street Lighting: The NHA emphasizes the importance of well-lit streets and pedestrian crosswalks during the winter months. Proper street lighting not only enhances the visibility of pedestrians but also encourages safer road use. Municipalities and city planners should invest in improving lighting infrastructure to promote pedestrian safety.
As drivers, we can effectively address this by:
- Reducing our speed and increasing our following distances as it becomes more challenging to assess other vehicles’ speeds and distances during nighttime driving
- Keeping our headlights, taillights, signal lights, and windows (both interior and exterior) clean
- Ensuring our headlights are properly aimed to avoid blinding other drivers and enhance our visibility on the road
- Employing low beams when trailing another vehicle to prevent blinding the driver ahead
- Never drive under the influence of alcohol, when fatigued, or after taking medications that can increase drowsiness
As pedestrians or cyclists, we can enhance our safety by:
- Crossing the street at intersections or street corners, refraining from jaywalking, or crossing between parked cars
- Evaluating the distance and speed of oncoming traffic before entering the roadway, recognizing that vehicles require more stopping distance in adverse weather conditions
- Avoiding roads without sidewalks or crosswalks; if necessary, walking facing traffic
- Wear bright or reflective clothing if walking or biking near traffic at night and carry a flashlight to increase visibility
- Utilizing bicycle lights, especially during early evening hours
- Remaining vigilant by using only one earbud when listening to music and ensuring that umbrellas or jacket hoods do not obstruct your view
As the days grow shorter and the nights longer during the winter, pedestrian and driver safety becomes a significant concern. Reduced daylight, coupled with adverse weather conditions and reduced visibility during commutes, pose a heightened danger to pedestrians. The impact of these conditions on pedestrian safety, emphasizes the need for caution and proper visibility measures. By understanding and implementing these safety measures, we can all contribute to a safer winter season and reduce the risks associated with the time change. Stay vigilant, be cautious, and prioritize safety on the roads during this transitional period. Together, we can collectively work towards safer road conditions for pedestrians and drivers alike during the winter months.