Dark commutes and Drowsy Driving

05 November 2021

Americans “falling back” by setting their clocks back an hour this weekend may think they are gaining an extra hour of sleep, but they need to remember to monitor their sleep schedule to prevent drowsiness on the road.

“While initially daylight savings seems like a good thing, you gain an extra hour of sleep, it might have a negative impact on energy levels and driving abilities in the following weeks,” says Meredith Mitts, spokesperson for AAA Minnesota-Iowa. “The sudden time shift can throw off circadian rhythms, making it hard to fall asleep at your normal bed time, and therefore making drivers more drowsy than they were before the time shift.”

According to AAA Foundation research:

  • Ninety-five percent of motorists view drowsy driving as very or extremely dangerous, but 17% admitted to driving when they were so tired that they had a hard time keeping their eyes open, at least once in the 30 days before the survey (2020 Traffic Safety Culture Index).
  • Drivers who have slept for less than 5 hours have a crash risk comparable to someone driving drunk.
  • Drivers who miss one to two hours of sleep can nearly double their risk for a crash.

Common symptoms of drowsy driving:

  • Trouble keeping eyes open.
  • Trouble keeping your head up.
  • Drifting from your lane.
  • Can’t recall last few miles driven.
  • Feeling restless or irritable.
  • Daydreaming or wandering thoughts.

To combat drowsiness on the roadways, 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.

“While daylight savings might help with getting up for work in the morning, it also brings an earlier sunset, leading to darker commutes home and for evening activities, which could lead to unsafe driving conditions for more roadway users,” Mitts continues.

Dark conditions make it harder to see when driving, and with 50% of crashes occurring at night, drivers should check their headlights for signs of deterioration and invest in new headlights or, at a minimum, a low-cost headlight cleaning and restoration. Since headlights deterioration can show starting at year 3, but most commonly by 5 years after installation, changing them out or cleaning them can greatly boost the safety of driving after dark.

When looking at headlights, AAA suggests drivers check for changes in appearance such as yellowing or clouding. If the bulb is difficult to see, it is time to have the lens replaced or restored as soon as possible.

 

In the meantime, drivers can compensate for reduced visibility by:

  • Decreasing speed and increasing following distance to four or more seconds behind the car in front of them.
  • Keeping their eyes moving. Do not focus on the middle of the area illuminated by the headlights. Watch for sudden flashes of light at hilltops, around curves, or at intersections, because these may indicate the presence of oncoming vehicles.
  • Look at the sides of objects. In the dim light, it’s imperative to focus on the edges or outlines of objects. Eyes can pick up images more sharply this way than by looking directly at the object.