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AAA cautions drivers to stay alert as we spring forward

Daylight Saving Time
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The arrival of Daylight Saving Time this weekend means one less hour of sleep and the potential for more sleepy drivers on the road.

AAA is reminding drivers to adjust your clock and your sleeping habits to make sure you’re alert behind the wheel. According to a study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, the percentage of crashes involving drowsiness is nearly eight times higher than federal estimates. The difficulty in detecting drowsiness following a crash makes drowsy driving one of the most underreported traffic safety issues.

AAA is reminding drivers to be extra cautious this year as the loss of light in the morning coincides with some school systems taking their first steps toward returning kids to the classroom since the pandemic hit this time a year ago.  Children have gotten out of the routine of going to the bus stop and practicing their safety skills along the road. Drivers in some areas may not have seen school buses in a year and may not be focused on stopping for those red flashing lights.

“When the clocks change, sleep cycles are interrupted and drivers can be more tired than they realize,” said Morgan Dean, AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesperson. “Losing one hour of sleep takes an adjustment and drivers need to prepare by getting more rest, especially on Sunday.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that 35 percent of U.S. drivers sleep less than the recommended minimum of seven hours daily. In AAA’s study, nearly all drivers (96%) say they view drowsy driving as a serious threat to their safety and a completely unacceptable behavior. However, 29 percent admitted to driving when they were so tired they had a hard time keeping their eyes open at some point in the previous month before the survey.

“As many Americans struggle to balance their busy schedules, especially with COVID-19 creating disruptions and interruptions to so many aspects of daily life, missing a few hours of sleep each day can often seem harmless,” added Dean. “Missing just two to three hours of sleep can more than quadruple your risk for a crash, which is the equivalent of driving drunk.”

Knowing the warning signs of drowsiness can help drivers avoid dozing off behind the wheel. The most common symptoms include:

  • Having trouble keeping your eyes open
  • Drifting from your lane
  • Not remembering the last few miles driven

Drivers however 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.

AAA recommends that drivers:

  • Travel at times of the day when they are normally awake
  • Avoid heavy foods
  • Avoid medications that cause drowsiness or other impairment

For longer trips, drivers should:

  • Schedule a break every two hours or every 100 miles
  • Travel with an alert passenger and take turns driving
  • Do not underestimate the power of a quick nap. Pulling into a rest stop and taking a quick catnap―at least 20 minutes and no more than 30 minutes of sleep―can help to keep you alert on the roads

The other issue increasing risk with the time change is darkness. 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 because 76% of pedestrian fatalities happen when it’s dark, according to findings from the Governor’s Highway Safety Association (GHSA) released in February 2020.

School safety

Many schools across Virginia are still in the process of getting the kids back in the classroom. Many drivers haven’t seen buses on the roads in months. Moving clocks ahead one hour means it will be darker in the mornings for the next few weeks.  It is important to remember that children will be on their way to school during this time, for some it could be the first time they’ve waited for the school bus in a year, so drivers must remain vigilant. AAA recommends the following:

  • Slow down. Speed limits in school zones are reduced for a reason. A pedestrian struck by a vehicle traveling at 25 mph is nearly two-thirds less likely to be killed compared to a pedestrian struck by a vehicle traveling just 10 mph faster.
  • Stay alert.Drivers should always avoid distractions – especially using cell phones – while driving, but it’s particularly important in school zones and residential neighborhoods.
  • Headlights. Turn on the vehicle’s daytime running lights or headlights—even during the day—so children and other drivers can see you more easily. But, don’t forget to turn them off when you reach your destination to maintain your battery life.

AAA tips for pedestrians

  • While walking, pocket the cell phone and avoid listening to music/audio player at a volume that prohibits you from hearing approaching danger.
  • Cross at intersections or crosswalks – not in the middle of the street or between parked cars.  Do not jaywalk.
  • Avoid walking in traffic where there are no sidewalks or crosswalks. If you have to walk on a road that does not have sidewalks, walk facing traffic.
  • Evaluate the distance and speed of oncoming traffic before you step out into the street.
  • Wear bright colors or reflective clothing if you are walking near traffic at dawn, dusk and night. Carry a flashlight when walking in the dark.
  • Allow extra time and distance for a vehicle to stop in inclement weather.
  • Do not let umbrellas or jacket hoods block your view of approaching traffic.

Seasonal transitions not only can mean lack of sleep, but also allergy issues. Motorists should be mindful of how medications to cure seasonal flare-ups may impair their ability to drive, causing drowsiness. To help determine if a driver’s medications may cause drowsiness, AAA and the AAA Foundation developed Roadwise RX, a free and confidential online tool that generates personalized feedback about how the interactions between prescription, over-the-counter medicines and herbal supplements can affect safety behind the wheel.


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