drowsy driverAnnual “Fall Back” means sun glare for the AM commute, darkness for the PM commute and potential for drowsy drivers.

Hamilton, NJ – As we prepare to turn our clocks back an hour at 2 a.m. this Sunday, with the end of Daylight Saving Time, many may rejoice for the extra hour of sleep. However, AAA Mid-Atlantic is reminding drivers to be prepared for potential challenges, such as changes in sleep patterns that may increase chances of drowsy driving.

“Shorter days starting next week means many of us will be driving home from work in the dark,” said Tracy Noble, spokesperson for AAA Mid-Atlantic. “The risk of drowsy driving also increases with the time change, so drivers should begin taking proper precautions now to ensure they get adequate rest.”

Sleep-deprived drivers cause more than 6,400 deaths and 50,000 debilitating injuries on American roadways each year, according to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF). “While many will enjoy an extra hour of sleep this weekend, few commuters and motorists realize the added dangers that can come as the result of a time change – especially when they are behind the wheel,” said Noble. “Although we gain an hour of sleep, our sleep patterns are disrupted. This can result in drowsy driving episodes and it is unsafe to drive when we are feeling sleepy.

Nearly one in three drivers (32 percent) say they have driven when they were so tired they had a hard time keeping their eyes open in the past 30 days, according to the latest Traffic Safety Culture Report from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. In fact, more than one in five (22 percent) admitted doing this more than once during that time.  Previous research by the AAA Foundation estimates that drowsy driving is a factor in an average of 328,000 crashes annually, including 109,000 crashes that result in injuries and 6,400 fatal crashes.

“Drivers should not rely solely on their bodies to provide warning signs of fatigue and should instead prioritize getting plenty of sleep in their daily schedules and simply be aware that the shorter days this time of year can create more drowsiness behind the wheel,” continued Noble. 

In addition, data from the 2016 AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety Culture Index study, shows that “nearly all motorists (95.9%) view drowsy driving as a serious threat to their safety and a completely unacceptable behavior; yet, approximately 3 in 10 (28.9%) admit to driving when they were so tired that they had a hard time keeping their eyes open at some point in the past month.”  

“Although the risks of driving while drowsy are well documented, that still does stop drivers from practicing this dangerous behavior,” added Noble.  “With traffic death rates three times greater at night than during the day, drivers can prevent these tragedies by being proactive with getting adequate rest and being mindful of other traveling drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians.”

New Jersey is one of only two states (Arkansas) that have laws that address sleep deprived motorists who injure or kill someone. New Jersey's "Maggie's Law" took effect in 2003 and allows a person who has caused a fatal crash and driven without sleeping for more 24 consecutive hours to be charged with vehicular homicide. 

AAA Mid-Atlantic Tips for Drivers

  • Slow down.
  • Turn on your headlights to become more visible during early morning and evening hours.
  • Keep vehicle headlights and windows (inside and out) clean.
  • Do not use high beams when other cars or pedestrians are around.
  • Yield the right of way to pedestrians in crosswalks and do not pass vehicles stopped at crosswalks.

AAA Mid-Atlantic Tips for Pedestrians and Bicyclists

  • Cross only at intersections.  Look left, right and left again and only cross when it is clear. Do not jaywalk.
  • Cross at the corner - not in the middle of the street or between parked cars.
  • 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 or biking near traffic at night. Carry a flashlight when walking in the dark.
  • Avoid listening to music or make sure it is at a low volume so you can hear danger approaching.
  • Bicycle lights are a ‘must have’ item for safe night riding, especially during the winter months when it gets dark earlier.