VA Tech Expert: Daylight Saving Time Change Can Enhance Driver Fatigue, Drowsy Driving

As most Americans get ready to push their clocks forward for daylight saving time, it’s also a time for commuters that can translate to more driver fatigue and hazards on the road, says Virginia Tech Transportation Institute expert Jeff Hickman.

“Any time change can exacerbate drowsiness because your internal clock has not adjusted to the time change. This can lead to disruptions in sleep until your body adjusts, which can take a few days to a week.” says Hickman.

When the clocks spring forward (March 10, 2019), Americans generally are initially more sleep deprived and occasionally commuting during morning darkness.

Hickman offers some tips for drivers to avoid fatigue:

1. Avoid driving during rush hour and from 2-4 a.m.

Crash risk increases during rush hours and from 2-4 a.m. Driving between 2-4 a.m. is particularly dangerous because a person’s circadian rhythm is at its lowest during this timeframe. And when a driver is already sleep-deprived, the desire to sleep during the circadian low is even greater.

2. Get a full night’s sleep.

Drivers should try to sleep at least seven to eight hours in order to avoid drowsiness. However, one night’s rest may not be enough for someone who has experienced several sleepless nights. In those cases, the driver will need several days of restful sleep to compensate for the sleep debt.

3. Pay attention to signs of drowsy driving.

Signs of drowsy driving include: slow eyelid closures, yawning, gentle swaying of the head, seat fidgeting, difficulty staying in your lane, difficulty maintaining speed, and delayed reactions.

4. Be aware of other factors impacting drowsy driving.

Situations that increase drowsiness are driving alone, monotonous road conditions, such as long straightaways with limited changes in the environment), long drives, and extended periods of heavy traffic.

Hickman leads the Behavioral Analysis and Applications Group at Virginia Tech. His research focuses on behavioral safety and health issues affecting commercial drivers. He has served as a scientific reviewer for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and currently serves as a reviewer for the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, Accident Analysis and Prevention, Traffic Injury Prevention, Transportation Research Part F: Traffic Psychology and Behavior, and the Journal of Organizational Behavior Management.

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