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Spend Time this Daylight Saving Time Keeping Drivers, Fleet Vehicles Safe

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On Sunday, March 13, America kicks into Daylight Saving Time. And unless you’re in most of Arizona, Hawaii and America’s far-flung island territories, it could be a most unlucky 13 for you, as fleet drivers return to work Monday morning with an increased risk of a fender bender.

That might seem paradoxical, given that the clock change gives drivers more evening sunshine as they jockey from point A to point B. But the true point HVAC owners may miss is this: For drivers, true road risk lasts a week after the clocks spring forward.

A study from the University of Colorado Boulder argues as much. In his October 2014 research paper, Austin C. Smith reported that in the first six days of Daylight Saving Time there were 302 deaths and a cost of $2.75 billion over a 10-year period. In Spring Forward at your Own Risk: Daylight Savings Time and Fatal Vehicle Crashes, Smith concludes that this “underscores the huge costs of even minor disruptions to sleep schedules”—and even qualifies the an increase of 6.3 percent in fatal crashes.

How much of that amount winds up prying open the pockets of business owners Smith doesn’t say. But he’s clear about the fact that “reallocating ambient light from the morning to the evening” contributes to the accident effect. That is: The clock change means less light to drive by in the morning, making visibility conditions less favorable.

On the non-fatal side, traffic accidents are nearly 9 percent more common on the first Monday of DST, according to an analysis of Canadian data published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1996. No one’s betting that the figure has gone down since then, what with more congested roads and the average age of motor vehicles and light trucks jumping 36 percent between 1996 and 2014—now at 11.4 years, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Note that you don’t have to be on a repair or installation call to get hit; you might just be on your way to work. Nor does “who’s at fault” apply here. As safe as your crew (or you) might drive, there’s a 100 percent chance you’ll be in traffic with sleep-deprived drivers not yet used to decreased morning light.

What to do, then? Here are some bullet points for actions that can make a difference:

Shift work hours temporarily. If there’s less light in the morning, and more sleepy drivers out there, consider sending your early birds out into the field an hour later. Granted, that’s a tough call to make in the event of urgent calls, but potentially the best one in terms of putting your crew at a higher risk. Once again, they’ll be up against other drivers who won’t be as proactive.

Inform your drivers. We all know that DST makes us tired; far fewer of us realize that the risks last for a week. Telling your drivers what they’re up against on all fronts can give them the edge they’ll need.

Heads up for peds. When light leaves the morning, it’s much harder to see people in darker colors crossing the street—especially school kids who have a penchant for darting before thinking. An accident that causes vehicle damage is a pain; one that involves a struck school kid is a nightmare. Alert everyone behind the wheel to be especially vigilant at street and school crossings.

Have fresh morning pots of coffee at ready. If you haven’t done so, consider springing, if you will, for the really good stuff now, or giving out coffee shop gift cards to drivers preparing for Monday morning rounds. It’s a way to not only keep everyone in the office alert once DST kicks off; it also reinforces the team spirit of “we’re all in this together.” (The big caution here is that if you upgrade the office java for DST, your drivers might not get used to a post-DST downgrade.)

While the accident rate is sure to go up, there’s a silver lining to all that evening sunshine for HVAC businesses. Citing a 2011 study, Smith notes that once it’s in effect, “DST could actually increase residential energy use, as increased heating and cooling more than offset the savings from reduced lighting use.”

So yes, there’s also a good shot you’ll get more service calls as a result of the time change itself. Just take good care to encourage your drivers to stay focuse: When they “spring forward” into action, they won’t want to “fall back” asleep at the wheel.

Lou Carlozo

Posted In: Safety, Vehicles & Fleets

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