Shift to Daylight Savings Time Nearly Triples Rate of Fatal Pedestrian Accidents

Two scientists have calculated that after clocks are turned back for the shift from daylight savings time to standard time, pedestrians walking during the evening rush hour are nearly three times more likely to be struck and killed by cars than before the time change, the Associated Press reports.

Ending daylight savings time translates into about 37 more U.S. pedestrian deaths around 6 p.m. in November compared to October, the researchers report. It’s not the darkness itself, but the adjustment to earlier nighttime that’s the killer.

Professors Paul Fischbeck and David Gerard, both of Carnegie Mellon Institute in Pittsburgh, conducted a preliminary study of seven years of federal traffic fatalities and calculated risk per mile walked for pedestrians. They found that per-mile risk jumps 186 percent from October to November, but then drops 21 percent in December. They said the drop-off in deaths by December indicates the risk is caused by the trouble both drivers and pedestrians have adjusting when darkness suddenly comes an hour earlier.

The risk for pedestrian deaths at 6 p.m. is by far the highest in November than any other month, the scientists said. The danger declines each month through May. The reverse happens in the morning when clocks are set back and daylight comes earlier. Pedestrian risk plummets, but there are fewer walkers then, too. The 13 lives saved at 6 a.m. don’t offset the 37 lost at 6 p.m., the researchers found.

Fischbeck and Gerard found the increase in fatality risk after the end of daylight savings time is only for pedestrians. No such jump was seen for drivers or passengers in cars. Their study of risk to pedestrians is preliminary, but confirms previous findings of higher deaths after clocks are set back in fall.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety of Arlington, Virginia, in earlier studies, found the switch from daylight savings time to standard time increased pedestrian deaths. Going to a year-round daylight savings time would save about 200 deaths a year, the institute calculated. A 2001 study by John M. Sullivan at the University of Michigan looked at national traffic statistics from 1987 to 1997 and found that there were 65 crashes killing pedestrians in the week before the clocks fell back and 227 in the week after.

According to a study by Neeraj Sood of the RAND Corporation and Arkadipta Ghosh of the Pardee RAND Graduate School, daylight savings time significantly reduces automobile crashes in the long run with a 8-11% fall in crashes involving pedestrians, and a 6-10% fall in crashes for vehicular occupants in the weeks after the spring shift to DST.

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