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Road safety warning as clocks go back

Charities warn that road accidents increase after clocks change

driving at night

This Sunday (30 October) marks the official end of British Summer Time, with the clocks turned back one hour to bring the UK back in line with Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).

While the change means we gain an hour early on Sunday morning, it’s the start of darker evenings to accompany the colder weather.

With some parts of the UK getting dark as early as 3.30pm during the winter, the afternoon rush hour will take place after dark for the next few months.

Increased danger on roads

Unfortunately, the switch to Daylight Saving Time appears to increase danger on the roads. A National Audit Office report from 2009 found that pedestrian deaths and injuries increase by 10% in the four weeks following the clock change compared to the four weeks preceding it.

The accident rate is higher in the afternoon rush hour than in the morning. It’s thought that drivers are more tired after a day of work, and hazards are harder to spot in the dark, driving the rate of road injuries even higher in the winter months.

When the clocks go back in October, the peak in evening road casualties shifts so it falls in the hour after sunset (Road Safety Observatory, 2012).

Suggested changes

To combat the increase in road casualties in the winter months, charities including Brake and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) are campaigning for changes to the current UK clock change system.

Currently, the UK operates on British Summer Time (BST) from March to October, and turns the clocks back to Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) from October to March.

One suggestion is to switch the UK to Single/Double British Summer Time (SDST). This would effectively align the UK with the Central European time zone used in countries such as France, Spain and Italy by adopting GMT+1 in winter and GMT+2 in summer. This change would result in later sunrises but lighter evenings.

According to the Department for Transport, lighter evenings could save around 80 lives per year on the roads, and an extra hour of evening daylight could save the NHS £200 million per year in accident-related costs.

An experiment to keep British Summer Time (GMT+1) all year round was conducted between 1968 and 1971. During the trial period there was an 11% reduction in road casualties in England and Wales, while Scotland saw a 17% reduction.

Although there are may supporters of the suggested changes, there is opposition from some groups who feel a loss of morning sunlight would be detrimental. This includes those in northerly parts of Scotland, where the sun would not rise until late morning during parts of the winter if SDST were to be adopted.

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