WASHINGTON, D. C. (Friday, March 12, 2021) ––The switchover to Daylight Saving Time 2021 transpires in the wee hours this Sunday morning at two o’clock. As Daylight Saving Time dawns and drowsy driving ensues, researchers have coined a new word to describe the inherent dangers. It is “Coronasomnia.” It speaks volumes about the increased risks on roads and at work. The lingering effects of the coronavirus crisis is “causing millions of people to lose sleep,” cautions the University of Kentucky Sleep Disorders Center. “Excessive daytime sleepiness can lead to drowsy driving [crashes] and workplace injuries,” warn clinicians.
Clockwork dangers. The change in sleep patterns of late, insufficient sleep duration, turning the clock forward one hour, and the later sunrise hours can prove problematic in terms of drowsy driving episodes and dangerous due to an uptick in sun glare-related crashes on roadways, as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, cautions AAA Mid-Atlantic. Just before dayspring dangers lurk in half-light and semi-darkness for the somnolent and sluggish. With the sun on the horizon “there will be more light in the evening.” Sunrise and sunset will be “one hour later on March 14, 2021 than the day before” in Maryland, Virginia and Washington.
Compounding matters, “because of the pandemic and the stress, more people than ever are fighting a serious loss of sleep,” according to clinicians and researchers at the University of California (UC)-Davis Health. “Insomnia was a problem before COVID-19,” UC Davis Health clinicians warn. “Now, with COVID-19 stress, the huge changes in routines and the decreased activity for many people, sleep experts say the coronavirus has caused a second pandemic of insomnia.” Is this a new normal for sleepy-heads on roadways?
“The times they are a-changin’,” in the words of Bob Dylan. As proof, the transition to Daylight Saving Time is also fraught with dangers for all road users. Drowsy driving is a factor in 10 percent of crashes, a much higher percentage than previously believed, revealed AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety research. The additional hours of daylight after the time change signals that more people will be out and about jogging, walking and cycling, safety advocates warn. Keep your eyes peeled for children playing outdoors.
“Many people are still coping with a change in their ‘typical circadian rhythm patterns’ in the wake of the pandemic. Drivers will have to spend the next week adjusting to having less sleep and be aware of factors that could make them sleepy behind the wheel,” said John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs. “Here are the rules of the road for those who drive, walk, jog, bike, scooter or motorcycle following the switch to Daylight Saving Time. Stay safe and sound. 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 room. 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.”
As the saying goes, “drowsy driving doesn’t always involve falling asleep behind the wheel.” The natural fact is the time change can prove more risky and challenging for drivers who are losing an hour of sleep and the change in daylight hours may create additional distractions on the roadways. Prepare for two extremes. First, a world of darkness during the morning commute. Then there is glare that strikes the eyes “while that lucky old sun got nothin’ to do but roll around heaven all day.” Glare emerges as a critical factor in “about 17 percent (16.7%)” of traffic crashes each year, according to the National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Survey conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Just after sunrise and before sunset the sun can shine directly into drivers’ eyes, leaving many motorists driving with a glare, warns AAA Mid-Atlantic. The temporary loss of visibility and the squinting into “blindingly bright sunlight,” and the sun’s position, pose risks for everyone on the roadway, such as drivers, vehicle occupants, children, pedestrians and cyclists, and for “people in crosswalks and those crossing at intersections.”
Amid the coronavirus pandemic, Washington, D.C. implemented its Slow Streets Initiative. It restricts specific roads to local traffic and reduces the speed limit to 15 mph. The “car-restricted streets” initiative and street closures now cover more than 26 miles of streets in the nation’s capital. The District says the Safe Streets program makes it easier for Washington, D.C. residents to enjoy the outdoors and to practice safe social distancing while walking, biking, and rolling in city neighborhood, as the local government “mitigates the spread of the coronavirus.” “Streateries” reflect the tempo of the times. Area officials are still “urging residents to keep their guard up when venturing out on area streets for food, medicine, work, and exercise.”
Although there were fewer cars and drivers on roadways and vehicle miles traveled dropped 13 percent during 2020, it is estimated “42,060 people died in vehicle crashes in 2020, an 8% increase over 2019 and the first jump in four years,” according to preliminary projections by the National Safety Council (NSC). The common factors were reckless behaviors behind the wheel, including “speeding and increased use of alcohol and drugs.” Traffic crashes dropped 26 percent in and around Washington, D.C.
Springing into Daylight Saving Time means many drowsy motorists may lose a spring in their step as they face a darker morning drive or sun glare from a rising sun. More people are up and about as springtime nears. Many area residents say they “changed their travel habits during the pandemic.” That’s according to the “Voices of the Region” survey by the Transportation Planning Board (TPB). In fact, “50 percent of survey respondents reported walking more, and 17 percent reported biking more than they did before COVID-19”
Drowsy driving looms large with the time shift. Research shows “the COVID-19 lockdown altered sleep in the US and Europe. Two new studies show that relaxed school and work schedules and more time spent at home has led people to sleep more on average with less ‘social jetlag’ as indicated by a reduced shift in sleep timing and duration on work days versus free days,” reports ScienceDaily. “But, at the same time, one of the studies also finds that the pandemic has taken a toll when it comes to self-reported sleep quality.”
Moonrise. Moonset. Twilight is another risk factor attending the time change. The Monday morning commute, and the morning commute for several weeks to come, will be much darker than what drivers are used to, a serious concern. Even so, 76 percent of pedestrian fatalities happen when it’s dark. “What a difference a day makes.” Sunrise occurs at 7:19 a.m. and sunset transpires at 7:15 p.m. on the Ides of March, Monday, March 15, in the region. In contrast, “the rising of the sun” ensues at 6:22 a.m. and “the going down of the same” unfolds at 6:13 p.m. on Saturday, March 13. A difference of 2:32.
Sunrise. Sunset. Seasonably, “the risk of sun glare increases as spring approaches.” Even so, the Spring Equinox occurs Saturday, March 20, marking the “astronomical first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere,” notes The Old Farmer’s Almanac. Law enforcement officials warn: “Glare on the windshield from the sun is just like any other visibility reduction situation, such as fog or heavy rain. Know that it prevents you from being able to clearly see what’s ahead.” Many areas, including the national capital region, are “seeing an uptick in the volume of bicyclists and pedestrians outside at all times of the day as people take breaks from staying inside,” notes the Governors Highway Safety Association. “Safety advocates say that it’s important for everyone to be aware of their surroundings, avoid distractions, and follow the rules of the road.”
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