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How daylight savings time and time zones can affect car accident risk

On Behalf of | Feb 21, 2023 | Motor Vehicle Accidents

Waking up in wintertime can be tough, especially in northern states like Indiana. The alarm goes off before the sun rises, and it is often still dark when we leave for work or school. Besides affecting a commuter’s mood, driving in the dark can mean they are still groggy, increasing the chances they will get into a serious car accident.

With daylight saving time starting again in March, those twilight mornings will continue until later in the spring. The concept of daylight savings time has become increasingly controversial in recent years. Among other things, critics say that making everybody suddenly gain (or lose) an hour twice a year disrupts our natural sleep cycles, an issue that can last for days before we adjust.

Lack of sleep, darkness and glare from a low-rising sun can each lead to major injuries in auto wrecks. A recent study suggests another factor that might affect some Americans’ ability to drive safely: time zones.

The lower 48 states are divided into four time zones. Inevitably, this puts several cities on the border of two time zones, including Terre Haute. Like most of Indiana, we are on Eastern time. Meanwhile, we are close to the border with Illinois in the Central time zone.

‘Eccentric’ time zone assignments

The study examined places like Terre Haute that researchers described as being in the “wrong” time zone geographically — which the study calls “eccentric time localities.” Basically, this means the time zone assigned to the place is disconnected from when sunrise and sunset times there. Since humans evolved to wake up with the sun and go to sleep when it sets, living in a place that dictates you wake up an hour earlier than people living fewer than 20 miles to the west is bound to disrupt your sleep, the study suggests.

Researchers included Terre Haute in their study comparing traffic fatalities in “eccentric time localities” with nearby communities in the “right” time zones. They found that Terre Haute’s vehicle fatality rate is 53 percent higher than in Champaign, Ill., which is in the Central time zone. Overall, the study found that cities and regions in the “wrong” time zones have 12.8 percent higher fatality rates in car accidents than the rest of the country.

The problem goes beyond border cities like Terre Haute. The study argues that based on the sun’s movement, most of Texas should be on Mountain time, not Central.

Drowsy driving is never acceptable

We cannot help what time zone we live in or when daylight saving time starts. But motorists can control doing their best to get a good night’s sleep and ensure they are reasonably awake and alert before getting on the road. Drowsy driving can be as dangerous to the public as drunk driving. The choice to drive despite being too sleepy to do it safely is a textbook example of negligence.