Every year on the second Sunday in March, Americans in 48 states move our clocks ahead one hour in observance of Daylight Saving Time. And every year on the first Sunday in November, like clockwork, we move them back one hour and return to Standard Time. All of that falling back and springing forward sparks mixed reactions.
Some of us love the extra hour of natural light and the longer evenings that come with Daylight Saving Time. About 48 percent of Americans, however, don’t think it’s worth the hassle, according to a Rasmussen Reports survey.
Whichever side of the debate you fall on, you should know that fiddling with the clocks twice a year disrupts our natural sleep cycles. The resulting fatigue, coupled with seasonal inclement weather and less morning/evening light, makes driving a risky proposition. Share these time-change safety tips with employees who operate vehicles on organization business.
Your body’s sleep cycle, called circadian rhythm, tells you to sleep when the sun is down and rise when it comes up. It can take longer than one week for your circadian rhythm to sync with shifting light conditions in the morning or evening. You can ease the transition if you and stay alert behind the wheel if you:
- Maintain a consistent sleep schedule: Adults need seven to nine hours of quality sleep each night. Going to bed and getting up at the same times year-round can help your body adjust to seasonal time changes.
- Use caffeine wisely: It’s okay to turn to coffee, soda, and other caffeinated drinks for a short-term energy boost, but remember that a “crash” often follows caffeine consumption.
- Recognize the signs of fatigue: Yawning, missing road signs or turns, drifting into other lanes, and forgetting the last few miles driven are potential signs of fatigue. You should also be aware of micro sleeps, or unpredictable losses of consciousness that can last up to five seconds. At 55 miles per hour, that is all the time it takes to travel more than 100 yards.
- Understand medication side effects: Prescription and over-the-counter medications can cause drowsiness. Some medications prohibit you from driving. Consult your doctor if you are unsure about a medication’s side effects.
Commuting in the dark
When we transition between Standard Time and Daylight Saving Time, we shift one hour of light between mornings and evenings. Darkness compromises our depth perception, color recognition, and peripheral vision. Protect yourself and your passengers during darker commutes by following these tips:
- Practice routine maintenance. Your headlights, taillights, and turn signals should be clean and crack-free. Dirty, dusty, streaked windows can cause glare when sunlight and headlights hit them, so keep them clean inside and outside.
- Protect your eyes. Looking from bright dashboard lights to dark roads can make it harder to see pedestrians, animals, and other vehicles. The same goes for looking into oncoming vehicle headlights. Dim your dashboard lights, and shift your eyes down to the lower-right side of your traffic lane to avoid being blinded.
- Comply with headlight regulations. In Texas, drivers must turn their headlights on from 30 minutes after sunset to 30 minutes before sunrise, or anytime visibility is less than 1,000 feet. The law also requires you to use your low beams when you are driving within 500 feet of an approaching vehicle; within 300 feet behind another vehicle; on lighted roads; and in fog, heavy rain, sleet, snow, or dust.
- Slow down. Drive at a speed that allows you to stop within your headlights’ visibility range, and approach crosswalks and intersections cautiously.
- Watch for wildlife. In Virginia, a deer crashed through a school bus window and landed on a student. The unlikely encounter reminds drivers to stay alert for animals. Texas logged the most deaths caused by collisions with animals during a 9-year study conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Be especially cautious on dimly lit, two-lane highways. In fact, avoid them if possible.
Navigating inclement weather
Texans use the term winter loosely, but some parts of the state get their share of ice, snow, and sleet. In the spring, Daylight Saving Time signals the start of storm season. Both seasonal time changes offer good opportunities to remind drivers about weather-related road hazards:
- Monitor tire condition. Purchasing the right tires for your climate and keeping them in good condition reduces the risk of slipping and sliding on slick roads. From there, you should rotate them as recommended in the owner’s manual, as well as regularly ensure they have enough air and tread. For inflation levels on vehicles on than buses, check the owner’s manual or inside the driver's side door. To check tread, use the penny test.
- Plan your trip. Check road conditions by visiting drivetexas.org or calling 800.452.9292. Speeding is especially hazardous on slick roads, so leave early enough to arrive safely and on time.
- Don’t tailgate. The minimum recommended following distance in good weather is four seconds for buses and two seconds for passenger cars, pickups, and vans. Increase your following distance on snow, ice, and rain-soaked roads.
- Navigate skids. Accelerating and braking gradually will reduce the risk of a skid. If you do lose control of the vehicle, gently turn into the skid, ease off the accelerator, and do not apply the brakes until you are back on course. Bridges, ramps, overpasses, and shaded areas are usually the first to freeze, so use extra caution.
Download a Driver Safety Kit
Fund Workers’ Compensation program members benefit from employee training resources at no additional cost. Our new Safety Kit makes it easy for supervisors to teach safe-driving basics in about 15 minutes. Log into myTASB and download the Safety Kit as a traditional, hard-copy toolbox talk or as a PowerPoint for a visually appealing presentation.