Daylight Savings Time came to an end Nov. 6 and safety professionals warn of the dangers of drowsy driving that can come from the time change.
The transportation industry prepares by training drivers to increase awareness of driving activity around them.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 633 deaths were attributed to drowsy driving in 2020.
Safety experts say education and awareness are key to preventing accidents for people heading to work at a new hour, possibly encountering sun positions they are not used to.
Luke Lazar, vice president of risk and safety for Flagger Force, said the general public presents the most dangers on the road because commercial drivers are educated on the dangers of driving tired and how to prevent it.
“We are able to see when our drivers are getting drowsy,” Lazar said. “We have cameras and electronic equipment that tell us,” he said, which is important because Flagger Force drivers drive 1.3 million miles a month.
John Rigney, director of safety for the Pennsylvania Motor Truck Association agreed. Tractor-trailers all have electronic logging devices that monitor when the truck is moving so drivers, who can work 14 hours, can only drive 11.”
They also have forward facing cameras that show what is happening on the road, he said.
“What we are seeing is with the economy, many people are working multiple jobs and are having trouble with drowsy driving,” Rigney said.
The former state police patrol officer said 6 to 7 a.m. is the busiest time for crashes. “People are fighting to stay awake and if they are driving east, they have to deal with the sun in their eyes,” he said.
“Many things go into “making” a drowsy driver, from what you eat, your lack of sleep, your time on task, and the type of task you’re doing,” Rigney said. “There are a lot of people
that like to leave early in the morning on a trip, say two or three in the morning, but they usually start their day at nine or ten. That first hour of driving is the most dangerous.”
Rigney said drowsy driving is more dangerous than a drunk driver. “Most drunk drivers know they’re drunk, and they know they must be careful, but when you’re a drowsy driver, you think you’re okay, you roll the window down, turn the radio up. Next thing you know, you’re sleeping.”
Jim DeCinti, an attorney for Pion Law in Harrisburg, who defends truck drivers and companies when accidents occur, said when people start to doze off, the car drifts the way the road is shaped. That often means they drift into another lane, possibly in front of another vehicle, he said.
“Professional drivers are taught to keep their eyes moving to scan their mirrors, so they can see when a car is not staying in its lane,” he said.
A tractor-trailer needs 395 feet to stop when traveling at 60 mph, DeCinti said. “So, they are taught to always have an escape route.”
However, when a car cuts in front of a tractor-trailer, thinking the truck can stop, problems arise, he said. “Everyone wants to beat the truck.”
Another issue is the blind spots. When a car is passing a truck alongside the trailer, there are spots where the driver can’t see the car, DeCinti said. “That can result in sideswiping accidents.”
Lazar said aggressive driving has increased post-pandemic as well. “There is a societal attitude that it is all about me.” He said people see stop signs as just a suggestion and, during the pandemic, police backed off on road stops because of exposure so speeds got higher.
Lazar said it takes three to 10 days to reset the body clock after a time change. “It may take longer,” he said, if shift work is involved.
Spring is the worst when the time change makes people lose an hour, Rigney added. But all three agree, drivers need to be aware of their surroundings when driving and know when they are tired.
“There are cameras everywhere,” DeCinti said. “Always assume you are on camera. Video makes it easy to tell who is at fault.”i