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Every year, we collectively spend an entire Sunday complaining about the loss of an hour’s sleep. This seems like a minor nuisance, but the effects of switching to Daylight Savings Time are not trivial.
A study from the University of Colorado publishes some sobering statistics, which reveal an annual uptick in morning traffic accidents following the arrival of Daylight Savings Time (DST). The goal of DST is to save energy, but the social costs may outweigh those benefits — at least for the week following the time switch.
Daylight Savings Time does two primary things to mess with our internal clocks: (1) It disrupts our sleep schedules; and (2) It restructures ambient light from early morning to early evening hours. The study’s author, Austin C. Smith, analyzed police and insurance data to reveal an average of 302 additional U.S. deaths from traffic accidents in the six days after the DST switch. This is a 17% increase from the usual accident rate. Over 10 years, this adds up to $2.75 billion in social costs. While losing an hour of sleep may seem like something small to complain about, the true consequences add up to something significant.
An hour of sleep requires a large adjustment in our internal clocks, and it takes a full week for our bodies to adjust. Driving drowsy (even with the aid of coffee) is equally dangerous as distracted or impaired driving. A large chunk of crashes occur between the hours of 4 a.m. to 6 a.m. — sleep deprivation only drives up the likelihood of accidents. Most officials advise catching up on sleep before driving, but that’s much easier said than done.
Can anything be done to mitigate the effects of a yearly time deficit? Speaking to Time magazine, Professor Steve Calandrillo (University of Washington) advocates for DST to remain active throughout the calendar year. He admits additional sunlight does save lives during evening hours when people are more active: “There are far more people asleep at 7 in the morning than at 7 in the evening.” However, the effects of a yearly switch are not negligible in terms of early morning accidents. Would a year-long change to DST be worth losing standard time altogether?