CHICOPEE, Mass. (WWLP) – The clocks will be set forward an hour on Sunday for Daylight Saving Time. However, until people acclimate to the change in time, there can be a greater risk on the roads.
Especially with the number of pedestrian accidents we have seen in our area in just the last couple of months, experts Friday night said to be cautious. “We lose an hour of sleep Sunday night, which means many folks will be driving tired,” said Mark Schieldrop of AAA Northeast.
Sleep deprivation affects judgment, missing one or two hours of sleep can nearly double the risk of a crash. Each year there are approximately 1 million crashes, 500,000 injuries, and 8,000 deaths due to drowsy driving, according to the National Highway Safety Administration.
“Drowsy driving is a significant traffic safety issue,” adds 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 AAA Northeast, drowsy driving can increase a driver’s crash risk comparable to driving drunk. Drivers who have slept for less than 5 hours can have a crash risk comparable to someone driving drunk.
“When folks are driving drowsy behind the wheel, it’s basically like driving drunk,” said Schieldrop. “Data tells us that if you only have about five hours of sleep, for many people that’s the equivalent of driving with a blood alcohol level close to the legal limit for driving drunk.”
In addition to drowsy driving, springing forward, also means more pedestrians will be out walking, taking advantage of the extended daylight, as in western Massachusetts, also seeing an increase in deadly pedestrian accidents. According to the state crash portal, this time last year here in western Massachusetts, crash deaths began to increase in March and peaked in June.
“We got an ongoing crisis when it comes to traffic safety right now, we have crashes and fatalities on the rise, so we have to be extra alert..and pay extra attention, and make sure you are visible,” expressed Schieldrop.
As warmer weather approaches, there’s also likely to be more people outside walking. The following reminders were sent to 22News from AAA for motorists and pedestrians 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.
“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.
“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.”
Daylight Saving Time starts this Sunday at 2 am, so don’t forget to set your clocks forward and get plenty of sleep.