Sorry for the Toronto Sun-like headline, but I couldn’t resist. But who knew that the likeihood of a pedestrian being struck within the first few weeks of standard time increased by a whopping 186%? Two Carnegie Mellon University scientists conducted a study from 1999-2005 that concludes pedestrians and drivers are slow to adapt to earlier darkness.
From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
Professors Paul Fischbeck and David Gerard have made a study of traffic fatalities that shows pedestrians walking during the evening rush hour are nearly three times more likely to be struck and killed by cars in the weeks after the fall time change.
The problem, they suspect, is that pedestrians and drivers have gotten used to more than six months of visibility during those hours and are slow to adapt to the danger of the darkness.
“The change that’s going to occur on Sunday is going to have some pronounced effects on your risks of walking between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.,” Dr. Gerard said last night. “Basically, these are the hours when it’s just getting dark. Next week at this time, it will be pitch black. But people walking and people driving won’t have adjusted. The baseline risk for getting killed is almost tripled.”
Their study of pedestrian fatalities from 1999-2005 shows that there is an average of 37 more U.S. pedestrian deaths around 6 p.m. in November compared to October. That amounts to an increase of 186 percent.
No such jump was seen for drivers or passengers in cars.
“It’s astonishing,” Dr. Gerard said of the data. “It’s particularly worse right at the switch date, [when the average increases] two people a day for the next couple weeks, until the adjustment is made.”
“There’s no significant difference at noon, but there is at 6 p.m.,” Dr. Gerard said. After spiking sharply in November, the number of pedestrian deaths at 6 p.m. begins to drop in December. The danger declines each month. Once everyone “springs forward” to daylight-saving time in April, there is a 78 percent drop in risk at 6 p.m., they said.
The risk at 6 p.m. in November, after daylight-saving time ends, is 11 times higher than the risk for the same hour in April, when daylight-saving begins, according to the Carnegie Mellon researchers.
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.
But overall for the evening rush hour, turning the clock back is a killer. In seven years there have been 250 more deaths in the fall and 139 fewer deaths in the spring.
Photo by Sean Connors