AAA: Spring Forward, But Not Drowsily

With clocks jumping ahead one hour on Sunday (March 12), motorists should use extra caution with the start of daylight-saving time this weekend, says AAA Northeast. Drowsy driving can increase a driver’s crash risk comparable to driving drunk.

“Drowsy driving is a significant traffic safety issue,” said Mary Maguire, Vice President of Public and Government Affairs for AAA Northeast. “As Americans move their clocks ahead by one hour they need to remember to monitor their sleep schedule to prevent drowsiness on the road.”

According to the National Highway Safety Administration, drowsy driving causes approximately 1 million crashes, 500,000 injuries, and 8,000 deaths each year in the United States. Just one sleepless night can impair performance as much as a blood-alcohol level of 0.10 percent, beyond the legal limit to drive. Similar to alcohol, sleep deprivation affects judgment, making it harder to assess how impaired you are when you’re tired. Drivers who have slept for less than 5 hours can have a crash risk comparable to someone driving drunk. Even missing one or two hours of sleep can nearly double the risk of a crash.

“Statistics show that the number of fatigue-related auto crashes increases in the days following the clock change,” said Marian Berkowtiz, founder of the Massachusetts-based Drowsy Driving Prevention Project. Berkowitz, who lost her brother, Jim, when he crashed while driving back to his law school in North Carolina on a Monday night after clocks pushed forward, founded the organization in 2012 to raise awareness about the dangers of drowsy driving.

“Be aware of feeling more tired than usual after we change the clock forward this weekend as the time change disrupts our sleep cycle.  Plan long drives with a friend or if you are driving alone, take frequent breaks (at least every couple of hours) at a safe spot such as a rest area or off of an exit,” Berkowitz said.

According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, despite 95% of respondents viewing drowsy driving as very or extremely dangerous, 19 percent of motorists admit to driving when they were so tired, they had a hard time keeping their eyes open at least once in the previous 30 days. (2022 Traffic Safety Culture Index).

“The adjustment period after the clock change can be lengthy and drivers are more likely to drive tired, especially those impacted by sleep disorders,” Maguire  said. “It’s essential for everyone to be extra vigilant about staying alert during these critical weeks as our bodies adjust.”

As the days become longer, more children, pedestrians, joggers, walkers and bicyclists will likely be more active outdoors and during peak travel times. AAA reminds motorists and pedestrians to remember the following tips to stay safe:

Tips for Motorists

•                     In the morning, watch for pedestrians when backing up in parking lots or driveways. Turn on your headlights to make yourself more visible.

•                     Leave more following distance. When the sun is in your eyes it can be hard to see what the car ahead is doing.

•                     Watch out for children and others who are outdoors in the lighter evening hours.

•                     Remember to yield the right of way to pedestrians in crosswalks. Do not pass vehicles stopped at crosswalks.

Tips for Pedestrians

•                     Cross only at intersections or crosswalks. Do not jaywalk or cross between parked cars.

•                     Avoid walking in traffic where there are no sidewalks or crosswalks. If you must walk on a road that does not have sidewalks, walk facing traffic.

•                     See and be seen. Carry a flashlight and wear reflective clothing and/or accessories.

•                     Don’t walk and text. If you must use your cell phone, be sure to keep your eyes on traffic and your ears open to make sure you can hear approaching danger.

AAA recommends that drivers:

•                    Should not rely on their bodies to provide warning signs for drowsiness and should instead prioritize getting at least seven hours of sleep before hitting the road.

•                     Travel at times of the day when they are normally awake.

•                     Avoid heavy foods.

•                     Avoid medications that cause drowsiness or other impairment.

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