Onset of daylight saving time means more traffic accidents

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wwltv.com

Posted on March 11, 2014 at 5:47 PM

Updated Tuesday, Mar 11 at 6:00 PM

Meg Farris / Eyewitness News
Email: mfarris@wwltv.com | Twitter: @megfarriswwl

NEW ORLEANS - Three deadly accidents in southeast Louisiana in a 24-hour span have taken the lives of four people, including two pedestrians.

While police say alcohol was involved in two of the fatalities, there is another reason why drivers may be more at risk this week.

It was only one hour, in the wee hours of the morning Sunday, but doctors say that's all it takes.

"We've known for a long time that sleep is very important to our bodies, and even minor changes of an hour or so can cause a significant impairment," said Dr. Amy Voigt, a neurologist and headache specialist.

Ten years of data from the Fatal Accident Reporting System revealed a 17 percent increase in traffic fatalities on the Monday after we spring our clocks forward. There were more early morning, rush hour crashes, especially for truckers, even on Tuesday.  Experts believe it takes about a week for our bodies to adjust.

"You can never make up sleep once you lose sleep. You lose sleep and that's it. Your body likes to have a certain number of hours of sleep," explained Dr. Voigt. 

Dr. Voigt says she gets more calls from her chronic headache patients in the days after daylight saving time changes. Heart attacks also rise. Doctors in their residency now have rules so they are not impaired by a slowed response time from sleep deprivation.

"They found that the level of impairment from sleep deprivation is similar to being intoxicated," said Dr. Voigt. 

Remember our brains have a  built-in chemical sleep-wake clock, driven by light coming into our eyes called a circadian rhythm.

And here's another problem about daylight saving time, children and adults are still going to school and work at the same time, but it's darker and drivers can't see them as easily.

School zone flashing lights have not all been changed so they are not flashing at 7 am when they should be. And it's dark at that time. Sunrise is at 7:15 and since it's only March, sunrise won't naturally move back to 6 am until June 21, the longest day of the year.  

The city of New Orleans says: "In order to ensure public safety, DPW is working this week to update school zone flashing beacons that did not automatically adjust to daylight saving time."

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