I don’t know about you, but I’m not a fan of daylight savings time. It’s dark when I get out of bed in the morning (I’m one of those very early risers) and, before you know it, it's dark again by dinner time.
While the practice of springing forward and falling back has been around since Ben Franklin (he suggested it in a 1784 essay as a way to save on candles), it wasn’t officially adopted until 1966. That’s when, according to the Uniform Time Act, Daylight Savings Time (DST) was designated to begin on the last Sunday of April and end on the last Sunday in October. That timeframe changed in 2005 with the passage of the Energy Policy Act, which deems DST to start at 2 a.m. on the second Sunday of March and end at 2 a.m. on the first Sunday in November.
Does DST really help reduce energy consumption? One U.S. report conducted back in the 1970s found electric use dropped about 1 percent, while more recent studies show no real savings benefit. You be the judge. What I’m most concerned about is that turning back the clocks results in commuters spending more time driving in the dark. That means it’s not only more difficult to see, but easier to fall asleep behind the wheel, especially after a long day at work or school.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, each year approximately 100,000 policed reported crashes are caused by drowsy or fatigued drivers. That’s a danger not only for other motorists, but all roadway users -- particularly pedestrians. NHTSA data show that more than half of all fatal pedestrian crashes involving children and teens 5 to 18 years of age occur in low light or dark conditions. In New Jersey, pedestrian fatalities are particularly prevalent during the fall and winter months, a time when you would think they’d decrease.
While it’s important for all motorists to be well-rested before taking to the road, it’s critical for teens. According to AAA, younger drivers are more likely to fall asleep at the wheel than older drivers. A recent AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety study found that one in seven drivers 16 to 24 years of age fell asleep at the wheel at least once during the past year, compared with one in 10 older drivers.
Early school start times coupled with athletics and other after school activities as well as jobs have many teens not getting enough sleep. Put a sleep-deprived teen (experts say they need at least 8 hours a night) behind the wheel and it’s a recipe for disaster. In fact, being awake for more than 20 hours is equivalent, says the National Sleep Foundation, to having a blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08, the legal limit in all 50 states.
Making sure your teen gets enough sleep before he heads out the door with car keys in hand is critical. And helping him recognize the warning signs of drowsy driving could just save his life. These include difficulty focusing, frequent blinking, heavy-feeling eyelids, trouble keeping your head up, unintentional swerving, not being able to remember the last few miles driven, and feeling aggressive or irritable. If you’ve never discussed drowsy driving with your young driver, I urge you to do so (it’s on my teenage son’s driving agreement, which says he won’t get behind the wheel if he’s tired).
In addition to discussing the signs of drowsy driving (which all motorists should know and heed), I also encourage you to make safety your priority as we prepare for the upcoming four-day holiday weekend. Thanksgiving is traditionally the most heavily traveled holiday of the year (AAA estimates 39.1 million will drive 50 miles or more this weekend). So if you’re planning to give thanks with family and/or friends, keep these tips in mind:
- Get plenty of sleep the night before so you’re alert to start the drive. Avoid driving late at night when you body is programmed to sleep.
- Don’t rush; taking breaks along the way (particularly if you’ll be traveling 100 miles or more) will keep you alert and ensure you arrive alive.
- Drive with a buddy who will not only ensure you stay awake throughout the trip as well as look out for any signs of fatigue, but take his turn behind the wheel.
- If you’ll be driving alone or with passengers who aren’t licensed and you feel fatigued, stop and take a short nap. Better to give in to your body’s need for sleep, than to fight it.
- Don’t drive after drinking or taking medications that can make you drowsy. And remember, that a heavy carb-laden meal (not the tryptophan in the turkey as some believe) can make you sleepy, so rest up before you get back on the road.
Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving!