Making daylight saving permanent could drastically reduce deer collisions, study finds

Making daylight saving permanent could drastically reduce deer collisions, study finds

Drivers would hit and kill 37,000 fewer deer each year if the United States stuck to daylight saving time year-round, according to estimates in a new study published Wednesday in the journal Current Biology.

The study predicts that keeping year-round daylight saving time — and reducing the amount of time that rush-hour traffic takes place during darkness — would prevent 33 deaths and some 2,000 injuries among people, and save about $1. 2 billion in collision costs.

” The numbers are surprising large,” stated Laura Prugh (an associate professor of wildlife science, University of Washington) and the author of this study. “It’s just noticeable that a seemingly simple change — not changing the clock back in the fall, not falling back — would lead to such a marked reduction in collisions throughout the country.”

The research highlights how subtle changes in human behavior can have major impact on animals. It also adds more ammunition to the charged debate over seasonal time changes and could bolster political arguments for moving the U.S. to permanent daylight saving time.

Daylight saving time is when many parts of the world set clocks back by one hour to shift sunlight earlier in the day, meaning sunsets then happen earlier.

The U.S. Senate in March approved a bipartisan bill that would make daylight saving time standard for all states except Arizona and Hawaii. However, the Sunshine Protection Act was not passed by the House.

Clocks across the country will be rescheduled for Sunday.

About 2. 1 million vehicle crashes in the U.S. each year involve deer, the study says. These crashes account for 440 human deaths each year.

To understand the effect of seasonal time changes, researchers gathered wildlife and vehicle collision data from 23 states and then created a model to estimate impacts nationwide. Deer have a tendency to be active at night, so drivers who drive after dark are more likely than those driving before dawn.

“If you drive two hours after dark, you’re 14 times more likely to hit a deer than if you drive before dark,” said Calum Cunningham, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Washington and an author of the study.

The data showed that deer-related car accidents spiked during the autumn.

For deer, there could be no worse time of year for humans to suddenly shift their schedules.

“The time switch occurs pretty much exactly smack bang in the middle of the mating period, in particular, for white-tailed deer,” Cunningham said.

During the rut, as mating season is called, male deer “go a little bit crazy, they increase movement and are fixated on reproducing,” he said.

Deer move about 50% more during the rut and are more vulnerable to being struck by vehicles, the study says. This means that when people switch to normal time, their clocks align the heavy traffic with dark hours and peak mating season. The researchers found that collisions with deer increased about 16% in the week after the switch. It’s like a perfect storm. The deer have gone crazy. Cunningham stated that they are most at-risk already, and have the additional option of driving later in the night because we have this extra switch.

After the time switch, fewer deer are killed in the mornings because there’s more light. But not enough drivers set out before dawn to offset the increase in collisions during evening rush hour.

States in the northern U.S. would reduce collisions most from permanent daylight saving. Locations on the eastern edge of their time zone — where it gets dark earlier — would also benefit more.

Some states don’t have high-quality data about wildlife crashes so these numbers may not be accurate. But the trend the researchers found runs parallel to what a separate analysis found in New York state.

Tom Langen from Clarkson University, who examined the effects in New York, praises the new study. He says it answers questions about the impact on the nation and does a great job of accounting for any data gaps.

” The bottom line message is that there are a lot of people.” he stated. It’s probable that it is correct that the time change, especially the transition from daylight savings time to standard in the fall, leads to some deaths of people and many accidents that wouldn’t happen.”

Researchers, including those associated with the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM), have opposed the permanent switching to daylight saving. They argue that standard time is more beneficial to health because our bodies function better with more sunlight in the morning.

But a change to permanent standard time would worsen deer-vehicle collisions significantly, the model predicts, causing nearly 74,000 more crashes, 66 human deaths and more than 4,100 human injuries.

“On the whole, we need a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis of the way daylight saving time impacts our health and environment,” Cunningham said.

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