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Well, it’s that time of the year again to “fall back” to standard time. This Sunday, most residents of the US will be turning their clocks back one hour, and going back to Daylight Standard Time. Even though the time change is meant to produce energy savings for the country, it usually leaves everyone feeling fatigued, at least for the first week or so, and that leads to safety risk at home and on the road.

Although it is only one hour of sleep difference, researchers have identified clear links between losing an hour of sleep and increases in fatigue and traffic accidents. In fact, some studies have suggested that one hour sleep loss is comparable to the same effect as three-hour jet lag. People that work traditional hours are most likely to be affected. It will take the average person at least a week to change their “internal clock” back to where it should be.

There are several documented studies that conclude on average a 5-10% increase in motor vehicle accidents the week directly after the time change. In fact the Monday after the time change has a significant increase of accidents, most of them due to sleepiness. Inversely, traffic accidents decrease by the same percentage in April when clock “spring forward”. Kathy Konicki, Nationwide Safety Director, states that “Just being aware of the increased risk of accidents in the period following the time change may help you stay alert”. She also recommends trying to get your normal sleep requirements in before the change.

Besides just being sleepy, the mere fact of commuting in the dark is a big factor as well. Unfortunately, there is nothing you can do to improve your vision at night; in fact, one’s night vision deteriorates over time. For example, a 50-year-old needs about twice as much light to see after dark as a 30 year old. Even young people who otherwise see well often suffer from a condition called night myopia. This tends to be a factor in low-light or dark conditions. The following are a few helpful tips for driving at night:

· Wear a hat and sunglasses during the day. Bright light exposure; due to ski slopes or beach activity effectively “bleaches” the photoreceptors in your eyes and prolongs the time it takes for them to adjust to the dark. Just 2-3 hours of bright lights can lengthen the time it will take for your eyes to fully adapt to the dark. For example, 10 consecutive days with full sun exposure can reduce your visual range by 50%. Experts recommend wearing neutral grey sunglasses as well as a good hat with brim during the brightest parts of the day.

· Dim the dash lights. If your instrument panel has a dimmer switch, use it to the lowest point you are able to view the panel comfortably. The lower the panel lights, the better you’ll be able to see outside.

· Take vitamins. Your eyes need vitamin A to work at their peak, so check your multivitamin for sufficient daily requirements.

· Clean your windshields. When light is refracted through a dirty windshield, it will intensify the glare. Try and clean your windshield; both inside and out each week to prevent glare.

· Look away from the oncoming lights. On a dark road try to look at the white line instead of the oncoming light. This will reduce the “blinding” effect on your eyes.

· Get your eyes checked regularly. According to medical experts, people under 40 should have exams every three years; people in the 40’s and 50’s every two years, and folks 60 years and older, every year. Incipient cataracts are a prime cause of glare sensitivity and deteriorating night vision

Don’t forget to “fall back” this Sunday morning at 2.00 am and be safe