Drivers affected by switch to daylight savings time

This past Sunday, March 13, we moved our clocks forward for the annual change to daylight savings time.

A spike in road risk often accompanies this seasonal time change.  B.C. crash statistics show that on the Monday after the time change, there are 23 per cent more crashes than on the Monday before the time change.

Sleep related collisions are very common and range from hitting a pedestrian in an intersection or rear-ending the vehicle in front of you, to veering off of the road and into a parked car or a telephone pole.

“Studies show that the switch into Daylight Savings Time can have a dramatic effect on disrupting our regular sleep cycle,” said Dr. John Vavrik, a psychologist with ICBC. “The transition into Daylight Savings Time puts us out of sync with our circadian rhythm and this can pose some unique dangers on our roads.”

The biggest impacts can be felt on some of the key skills that affect the quality of our driving – poorer concentration, alertness behind the wheel and reaction time to potential hazards.

“The real danger is that people believe if they don’t feel tired, then they aren’t fatigued,” said Vavrik. “However, while you may feel fine, your circadian rhythm can still be significantly disrupted which can affect your alertness while driving.”

The impact of the loss of an hour sleep can lead to us being impaired as drivers. When most of us think of impaired driving, we think of people who drink and drive. But anything that decreases your ability to judge the situation around you and to react appropriately can be dangerous.

“Fatigue is a serious impairment – its real risk is that we don’t often realize how much it affects us when we drive,” said Vavrik. “Fatigue can be especially dangerous when combined with other distractions behind the wheel. You really need to limit any potential distractions at this time more than ever.”

Sleep is what the body really needs to be able to function properly.  Time changes reflect a change in social clocks not biological ones and studies show that our circadian rhythms (body clocks) don’t adjust to these changes naturally.

Fatigue impairs the brain functions as much as alcohol, reducing the ability of the mind and body to respond quickly and accurately.

The BCAA Traffic Safety Foundation has a few recommendations for drivers to help them adjust to Daylight Savings Time.

• Avoid caffeine or other substances to “wake you up” because once it wears off you may feel even more fatigued.

• Drive with your headlights on during the darker morning commute for better visibility.

• Be aware of the increased number of people out walking in the evenings taking advantage of the extra daylight, especially in residential areas.

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