End of daylight saving time makes drowsy driving a nightmare

Traffic law, Crime

The first Sunday in November marks the shift out of Daylight Saving Time. It officially ends at 2:00 a.m., when the clock is turned back one hour and we thus “gain” an extra hour that night. While that additional 60 minutes of sleep – if you take advantage of it – can feel mighty good, this change also means that an hour of daylight is taken away from the evening, ushering in the darkness of winter. Changes in time, season, and level of light all impact behavior and can lead to drowsy driving.

Drowsy driving is impaired driving

Daylight savings drives distraction

The subtlest changes in sleep patterns and circadian rhythms can alter your level of alertness, increasing the risk of car accidents. But drowsy driving is not just about falling asleep at the wheel – it’s a severe impairment in judgment and reaction time that comes from lack of sleep. In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) notes that the manifestations of drowsy driving mimic those of drunk driving (or distracted driving or drugged driving): drifting out of your lane, swerving into oncoming traffic, difficulty remembering the last few miles that you’ve driven, hitting rumble strips, and missing your exit.

Some people rely on sleeping pills to help them get enough shut-eye or manage a sleep disorder, but research has found that dependency on sleep aids increases the risk of being involved in a morning car accident. Even after the sleeping-aid effects have worn off, people can remain sleepy, and this leads to slow reaction time, dulled level of alertness, failing to observe the speed limit, and poor judgment.

The reality of sleep deprivation means bad news for pedestrians and bicyclists, who must be extra-vigilant watching out for drowsy drivers. The combination of fatigued drivers and darkened evening roads leads to a jump in pedestrian fatalities and injuries at the end of daylight saving time.

Legislation to curb drowsy driving

NHTSA reports that more than 100,000 car crashes – which leave over 71,000 people injured and more than 1,500 dead – involve drowsy driving every year. So it’s no mystery why states around the country have embraced legislative efforts to reduce the number of drowsy drivers on the road:

  • In Alabama, California, Florida, and Texas, Drowsy Driver Awareness Days or Prevention Weeks have been enacted.
  • In Arkansas, a driver involved in a fatal accident who has gone without sleep for 24 consecutive hours can be charged with “fatigued driving,” an offense under negligent homicide, punishable as a class A misdemeanor.
  • New Jersey honors the 24-hour rule, but classifies drowsy drivers in this situation as driving recklessly, in the same class as an intoxicated driver.
  • In Utah, road signs have been installed to warn against drowsy driving and provide info about where drivers can pull over to rest.

Combat drowsy driving by getting enough sleep every night. Drivers who sleep only five to six hours a night are twice as likely to crash, according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. Risks quadruple when you sleep only four to five hours a night.

If you ignore the signs of sleepiness and get nailed for drowsing driving, you should contact an attorney who specializes in impaired driving charges. If your drowsing driving results in property damage or injuries to other people, you should consult a lawyer who specializes in in car accidents or personal injury.