Sunday, November 6, 2011

Daylight Saving Time: A Cyclist's Perspective

If you're reading this American blog written in English, chances are probably pretty good that you've just participated in the twice-yearly changing of the clocks. Amid the jokes about time travel and the elation at getting an "extra hour," there is the harsh reality that we're going to be faced with an ever-decreasing amount of daylight, which moving the clocks back will only hasten. The day we switch to Standard Time is one of my least favorite days of the year, which is why I've spent all day lounging around in my adult onesie and listening to the Smiths.

The view from my window, approximately 5:52 pm.
I am a fan of DST. I like coming out of work and having a good three hours, or even one measly hour, of glorious natural sunlight. Daylight saving time has many non-transportation-related benefits for me and for others: lessened seasonal depression (those sun lamps don't work, that is not the sun), lower energy costs (although those are doubtful), and less time watching TV or playing on the Internet because hey, what else are you going to do? But as this is a bicycle blog, let's just talk about the transportation effects, because those alone are enough to convince anyone that a move to permanent DST is an excellent idea that should be carried out immediately. According to some British news site:

  • Car accident rates in November go up 17% as drivers adjust to darker conditions. This wouldn't happen if the change to darkness was more gradual, and if there was less darkness in the evening overall.
  • Motorcycle accidents go up 41.8% during standard time. Our two-wheeled brothers and sisters bear the brunt of the decrease in driver attentiveness.
  • 80 lives per year in the UK would be saved if permanent DST were the norm. Extrapolate this to the US, where  more people are driving longer distances, and that's a huge amount of people.

Although bike commuters aren't mentioned specifically on that article, it's pretty easy to see that permanent DST would have enormous benefit for us, the main benefit being more people would bike commute. I mean, I'm going to commute by bike all winter long anyway: I don't have a choice. But for people who do have a choice, it's awfully hard to convince them that it's safe and healthy to ride their bike home from work when it's pitch black outside. Most people who work standard shifts, and most students, stop working/going to school around five at the latest, which in standard time is just when it turns from dusk to evening. But with an extra hour? It would still be pretty light, and that extra 20-40 minutes of fading daylight might be enough to assure greener cyclists that the roads are still safe for them. And more riders equals more safety! (But still turn on those lights, kids.)

But also, more daylight means more protection from drivers. Cyclists are just as susceptible to driver inattention and poor night vision (hey, I have both!) as people on motorcycles, and just like them we're much less likely to survive an accident. Lights are an essential tool for cyclists, but no light can match the sun, the ultimate bottle dynamo.

Of course, a trade-off of longer daylight hours is that it will still be dark when many of us leave for the day, but personally I don't mind riding at dawn nearly as much as I mind riding at dusk. Okay, I do hardly any dawn riding because I am lazy and don't like leaving the house before mid-morning if I can help it. But the little I've done, I haven't minded. I'd guess that it's safer than dusk riding, because after all the light is increasing, so every minute that passes gets safer and safer.

I can't think of any good reason why we shouldn't have year-round DST. What do you think?

No comments:

Post a Comment