Driving Safety: Dealing With The Return To Standard Time

November 6, 2011

For most of the country, the first Sunday in November marks the annual return to standard time from Daylight Saving Time. It’s the “fall back” portion of “spring forward, fall back” mantra we use to remind ourselves we’re going to be gaining an hour’s sleep come 2:00 a.m. November 6.

Only two states, Alaska and Hawaii, and two U.S. territories, American Samoa and the Virgin Islands, don’t deviate from the standard time in their time zones. All other areas make the switch in the fall and again in the spring.

Believe it or not, there’s no federal mandate that any states or territories observe Daylight Savings Time. But if they do, they are required to observe standardized start and end dates: Daylight Saving Time starts at 2:00 a.m. on the second Sunday in March and ends at 2:00 a.m. on the first Sunday in November.

The debate rages on as to how much this whole moving the clock up and back benefits society. The idea is that with more daylight available in the evening hours, there’s more daylight when people are normally awake. There’s also research that shows that more available daylight decreases the number of traffic accidents and fatalities and crime.

But now we’re back to standard time. That means winter driving, lots less daylight over the next few months, and, for many of us, driving to and from work in the dark.

Resetting our body clocks

So this is a time to get our act together with respect to our driving behavior. We definitely don’t want to be on the road with an accumulated sleep deficit as a result of not adjusting our sleep habits when we returned to standard time in our time zone.

It’s really a matter of retuning or resetting our body clocks to be in sync with the new schedule. This most likely means that we adjust our daily routine so we gradually get accustomed to going to bed an hour earlier.

Of course, this may be easier said than done. If we set the clock back so that when we woke up November 6, it was the correct standard time for our time zone, we actually went to bed an hour earlier than we’re used to. We may have tossed and turned for a while or just got up and watched TV or read until the time we normally retire.

--The problem is that it takes our body clocks a little time to adjust. For a few days, we may find ourselves feeling more tired than we normally feel after work.
--We may also notice a tendency to eat more, which may be a type of response we want to curb.
--For some people, getting our body clocks in sync may take a week or longer, although most will acclimate to the new schedule quicker.
--One way to compensate for this is to really wring ourselves out with exercise in the daytime, so that we’re thoroughly tired when it’s time to go to sleep on the new schedule.
--Sleep experts recommend that we make sure our bedroom is dark and cool in order to facilitate sleeping.
--Avoid bright lights, such as the TV and computer monitor, immediately before retiring for the night. We should ease into our sleeping pattern, not agitate our mind.
--Another is to gradually adjust the time we go to bed by 15 minute increments over the course of a week so that we slowly become accustomed to getting the sleep we need in order to function at our best.

Safety on the road

As drivers, we need to remind ourselves that the return to standard time means others on the road, as well as pedestrians, are also trying to get used to the new schedule.

  • When we’re driving home and it’s already dusk or getting dark, we have to be doubly cautious about people out walking. Carnegie Mellon research shows that during the first few weeks of the return to standard time, there’s a 300 percent greater chance of pedestrians being struck and killed by a car.
  • Drive slower in residential areas where children are playing as well as urban areas with heavy congestion and high foot-traffic.
  • Avoid distracted driving caused by fiddling with the radio, trying to take or make a call, even hands-free, or listen to a text message being read to us over our vehicle’s infotainment system.
  • We could also help ourselves by reducing the number of errands or driving time in the first week or so of the new schedule. This gives us ample time to get back on track and used to the new routine.

The ironic thing about this semi-annual switch-up is that just when we’ve got the hang of it, it’s time to change it up again. Unless and until there’s a federal mandate to do away with Daylight Saving Time altogether (and there’s no guarantee that will ever happen), we’ll just have to deal with it.

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