The Uniform Time Act of 1966 (15 U.S. Code Section 260a) standardized Daylight Saving Time over 40 years ago. It was not a novelty then; it had already been adopted in much of the U.S., having been employed in both World Wars to conserve energy.
In 1986 President Reagan signed Public Law 99-359, changing DST from the last to the first Sunday in April. No change was made to the original ending date, the last Sunday in October. According to reports published at the time, adding the whole month of April was supposed to save the U.S. about 300,000 barrels of oil yearly.
Under the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (42 U.S. Code Section 15801), which did a whole lot of other things, too, DST was to begin three weeks earlier than previously, on the second Sunday of March. It was also to end one week later, on the first Sunday in November. The new dates applied as of 2007.
DST’s dates were fiddled with for good reason. A U.S. Department of Transportation study discovered back in 1970 that in both summer and fall, electrical energy demand fell by about one percent as compared to previously. In 2006 terms (using the latest federal data available), Maryland residents alone consume an average of 2 ¼ billion kilowatt hours per month. Taking into account the cost of electricity, this new law represents a savings for Maryland residents of about $2.2 Million per month during spring and fall.
What many do not know is that Daylight Saving Time also reduces traffic accidents and deaths. The 1970 study also showed DST reduced traffic accidents, saving 50 lives and about 2,000 injuries in March and April of the years studied. We have no definitive current data, but with the many more highways and miles of other roadways in our country today, one would expect even more significant reductions.
A study last year re-confirmed that Daylight Saving Time prevents automobile accidents. Published in The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis and Policy (Vol. 7, Issue 1, Article 11), Short and Long Run Effects of Daylight Saving Time on Fatal Automobile Crashes says:
DST has no significant detrimental effect on automobile crashes in the short run;
DST significantly reduces automobile crashes in the long run with an 8-11% fall in crashes involving pedestrians, and a 6-10% fall in crashes for vehicular occupants in the weeks after the spring shift to DST.”
Why? Some say it has to do with inadequate vision–driving at dusk.
But enough about Daylight Saving Time. Today, it is multitasking while driving which is causing increasing numbers of accidents on the roads. The momentary distractions from cell phone calls, texting, and other multitasking are a serious, new source of injury and death from automobile collisions today. See, for example, this story about distracted drivers in Reader’s Digest.
If you are injured in an auto accident, and file a claim, you could be asked if you were talking on your phone, sending a text message, or otherwise engaging in behavior which could have distracted your attention from the road. If your own inattention contributed even one percent to the collision, you could be precluded from receiving compensation under Maryland’s rules on contributory negligence. By the same token, we will be asking the driver who hit you if he or she was using a cell phone.
Recently, text messaging was blamed in a horrendous train wreck. The train driver’s cell phone records were easy enough to check, allowing officials to pinpoint his activities to just seconds before the crash. Recently, too, a pedestrian, a boy on his way to school, walked in front of a car at the very moment he was sending a text message to a friend –obviously not paying attention to oncoming traffic. Doctors now warn of the dangers of texting while walking or driving. So it is not just drivers who are inattentive–it is pedestrians, too.
Government statistics show that Maryland road deaths rose from 614 in 2005, to 651 in 2006, an increase of 6%, while nationally, deaths were down by 2%. Are Marylanders textaholics? Or, as in national trends, do we drive more SUVs and motorcycles than the rest of the nation. SUVs and motorcycles are two categories whose national death and injury statistics are trending upwards. The answer isn’t clear.
So let Daylight Saving Time do its thing to save lives, but also, it’s time we put down our phones and started paying more attention to the road. As in that old song by Paul Evans and the Curls performance from 1959:
Keep your mind on your driving
Keep your hands on the wheel
Keep your snoopy eyes on the road ahead…
It’s a song your mother or grandmother might have hummed. See this YouTube version of Seven Little Girls. Just don’t watch this video on your phone while driving.