Published on:

Daylight Savings Time – Why is This Still a Thing?

Throughout Massachusetts we fell back on Sunday November 1. That is the clocks were set back one hour.  Media anecdotes and clichés as to the benefits of the one hour change are repeated with each cycle of the seasons.  Parents feel better because school buses can pick up their children when it is light, we can save on utility bills because we make better use of the daylight hours, it helped America beat the oil embargo and so on.  But there are contrary arguments supporting that it is time to end the practice. Lifestyles have changed, it doesn’t really save electricity, it gets dark way too early and sleep loss or change in sleeping patterns can be a real problem.

commerce-acts-books-477966-mGetting to work on a Monday morning can be a real hassle with clogged roads and job demands.  All of the major routes into Boston are clogged with cars, including Route 1 on the North Shore, Route 95, Route 93 and Route 28. The first Monday after turning back the clocks can be especially bad. Sleepy drivers, dark highways and rushing to work are a dangerous mix.  Traffic accidents tend to spike the first Monday after daylight savings time, as motorists struggle with an hour less sleep and darker early morning road conditions, according to the experts. “When I was traffic commissioner, I always noticed a surge in crashes the week after daylight savings,” said Sam (Gridlock Sam) Schwartz, a former NYC traffic commissioner now in private consulting.   Research from a University of British Columbia professor who looked at U.S. crash data from 1986 through 1995 and found a 17% spike in accidents the Monday immediately after daylight savings time kicked in.  An earlier study by the same professor, Stanley Coren, looked at Canadian crash data from the early 1990s and found an 8% spike. “It’s a consequence of millions of us being sleep-deprived at the same time. Our otherwise near misses become accidents due to fatigue,” said Martin Moore-Ede, a former professor at Harvard Medical School and an expert on driver fatigue.

Austin Smith, a PhD candidate at the University of Colorado-Boulder, in a paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Economic Association, discussed national data on all fatal car crashes from 2002 to 2011 to see what happens immediately after people reset their clocks in the spring and fall. He did so by comparing the number of crashes that occur just before and after the time changes in each year. The result: Fatal crashes increased by about 6 percent over the 6 days immediately following the spring transition, but didn’t change after the fall transition. Because people “lose” an hour only in spring, and because the accidents weren’t concentrated at times when changes in daylight might have been a factor, Smith attributes the spike in crashes to inadequate sleep. He estimates that the 6 percent increase amounted to more than 300 added deaths over the 10-year period he studied.

Not only are the roads more dangerous because of the time change from daylight savings time, but workplace accidents go up too. Using U.S. Department of Labor and Mine Safety and Health Administration data, Christopher Barnes and David Wagner, doctoral candidates studying industrial and organizational psychology, found that the number of workplace accidents spikes after Daylight Savings Time changes every March. In two separate studies, they found that the March switch to Daylight Savings Time resulted in 40 minutes less sleep for American workers, a 5.7 percent increase in workplace injuries and nearly 68 percent more work days lost to injuries.

Given the complexity of the issues surrounding the benefits and drawbacks to changing the clocks twice per year and the increase in accidents on the highway and in the workplace caused by fatigue, a serious discussion of the continued merits of daylight savings time is suggested.

Contact Information