Letter to the Editor: Drivers should take heed after time change

By Ken Grant

Springing into Daylight Saving Time means many drowsy motorists may lose a spring in their step as they face a darker morning drive or sun glare from a rising sun.

Daylight Saving Time begins at 2 a.m. this Sunday, March 8, when we set our clocks one hour ahead. Legislation is in the works to end the clock-switching practice throughout the Mid-Atlantic region.

Ken Grant

The problem is that a change in time can mean drivers are more tired than they realize, and transferring daylight from the morning to the evening means drivers and pedestrians will have to adjust to a darker morning commute to work or school. It’s important that both drivers and pedestrians are aware of the potential dangers and act with caution. 

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety recently released the most in-depth drowsy driving research ever conducted in the U.S., using footage of everyday drivers, which found drowsy driving is a factor in about 10 percent of all crashes – that is eight times higher than previous federal estimates. 

 In Delaware in 2017, State Police reports show that 6,646 crashes and 12 fatalities were attributed to driver inattention, distraction, or fatigue.

Drivers who miss just one or two hours of the recommended seven hours of sleep in a 24-hour period nearly double their risk for a crash. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that 35 percent of U.S. drivers sleep less than the recommended minimum of seven hours daily. In a recent related AAA Foundation survey, nearly all drivers (96 percent) say they view drowsy driving as a serious threat to their safety and a completely unacceptable behavior. However, 29 percent admitted to driving when they were so tired they had a hard time keeping their eyes open. 

The other issue increasing risk with the time change is darkness.

The Monday morning commute, and the morning commute for several weeks to come, will be much darker than what drivers are used to, a serious concern because 75 percent of pedestrian fatalities happen when it’s dark, according to the latest findings from the Governor’s Highway Safety Association (GHSA).

Because most pedestrian fatalities occur in urban areas, GHSA also examined changes in the number of pedestrian fatalities for the ten most populous U.S. cities. The total number of pedestrian fatalities for the ten largest U.S. cities increased by about 28 percent, from 551 fatalities in 2015 to 704 in 2016. The largest increase on a percentage basis occurred in Philadelphia (an increase of 65 percent). 

Delaware is one of 10 states that has passed bills or resolutions to stop the practice of changing clocks twice a year. Another 31 states have introduced legislation to follow suit, and there are two bills in the U.S. Congress to address the issue.

  • Delaware – passed SB73 in 2019, which calls for the state to end the clock changes as soon as PA, NJ, and MD passes similar legislation
  • Maryland – HB 1610 and SB517
  • New Jersey – S420
  • Pennsylvania – HB 1462, HB 825, SB 774, SR 179

Until the legislation in our neighboring states is passed and we can stop switching clocks back and forth every six months, both drivers and pedestrians need to exercise added caution in the days and weeks following the clock-switches.

Slow down, pay attention, eliminate distractions. Drivers should make sure their headlights are clean – inside and out – and watch for pedestrians at all times.

Ken Grant is the Public and Government Affairs Manager for AAA Mid-Atlantic in Delaware.