Shorter Days, Deadlier Streets

Most people rejoice at the annual setting back of the clocks: the extra hour of sleep is a most welcome bonus at a time of year that’s beginning to get dark and dreary.

Research shows there’s a noticeable spike in motor vehicle collisions after we “spring forward” early in the year, a fact that makes sense when you consider drivers are suddenly short an hour of sleep and are more fatigued behind the wheel.

But did you know that the fall time change is also linked to an increase in road collisions? There is ample research to show that several factors related to reverting to Standard Time mean more dangerous streets for pedestrians and people on bikes.

According to Driving.ca, “Quebec and Ontario’s statistics on personal injury accidents between 5:00 pm and 8:00 pm dramatically increase in the 30 days following the return to Standard Time.”

The danger doesn’t just last for a month, though. In Toronto, “pedestrian collisions increase by more than 30 per cent during the evening commute hours from November to March.”

So what’s happening here? In essence, the danger begins with the November time change when drivers experience fairly sudden, drastically lower levels of daylight during their after-work commute. Then, the lower visibility is exacerbated by wet roads and reflecting headlights and street lights. In theory, drivers should be more well-rested with that bonus hour of sleep, but in practice, “commuting in the dark can also make drivers drowsier than usual.”

Taking inspiration from a similar campaign in New York that reduced fatalities, the City of Toronto launched its own post-time change safety campaign. Part of Toronto’s second attempt at Vision Zero, the “Take Another Look” campaign reminds drivers to slow down and pay attention to the changing road conditions and reduced visibility levels.

Some scientists think that staying on Standard Time year-round is ideal, as it is closer to our natural circadian rhythms. Others think that staying on Daylight Savings Time is preferable, for two main reasons. One, “when clocks leap forward in the spring, research shows there is an increase in heart attacks, traffic accidents, and workplace injuries – the result of millions of people adjusting to being forced miss an hour of sleep.” Two, having more daylight later, rather than earlier, in the day results in fewer traffic-related injuries (especially for pedestrians), among other benefits.

The Sunshine Protection Act, a private member’s bill in the Ontario legislature, is under consideration. The bill proposes the permanent adoption of year-round Daylight Savings Time.

As Ontario debates the merits of sticking to one time all year, the four key messages of the Take Another Look campaign should be heeded by drivers throughout the province:

  • “When driving, please slow down, turn slowly and stay alert at all times.
  • Make sure vehicle headlights and signal lights are functioning properly.
  • Obey speed limits and approach all crosswalks, intersections and transit stops with caution.
  • Give yourself plenty of time wherever you’re going and plan your route in advance. Use public transit when possible.”

Let’s all do our part: lives depend on it.