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The Season of Darkness and Ice

Road safety issues are seasonal.  In mid- to late fall, three topics always invite a re-visit and journalists who focus on driving and safety invariably dig up the latest research on them.

The first is clock optimization and its effect on road safety.  The return to standard time on the first Sunday in November provides everyone with the luxury of an extra hour of sleep but at the cost of reduced visibility at the end of the day.  An ongoing debate concerns the risk from reduced visibility from the night-time early darkness in standard time compared to that from sleep deprivation and high rates of vehicle usage with daylight saving time in the spring and summer months.

The latest studies from both Britain and the US indicate that daylight savings time may, in fact, be a ‘lifesaver.’  In Britain, for example, the return to standard time means that schoolchildren are returning home in the dark.  The steady trend of a noticeable spiking in child pedestrian fatalities just after 4 pm at this time of year, along with a 37 percent increase in the number of accidents involving all pedestrians in the evening over the morning has prompted Smart-Witness, a British motor safety company to contend that, “stopping the clocks going back … could save hundreds of children’s lives.”

Another takeaway from this, however, is better awareness that the increasing darkness of day’s end considerably reduces driver and pedestrian reaction times.  In the fall and winter, walking or driving home is proving to be the most dangerous time on the road.

The second topic is the seasonal increase in impaired driving checkpoints.  As a result, ‘it is the season for reminding drivers impaired by alcohol, apart from the havoc they may wreak, expect legal consequences—in BC:  vehicle impoundment, license suspension, and criminal charges for blowing over .08.  But as drug-impaired driving charges continue to rise, and, likewise, drug mixed with alcohol-impaired driving charges, ‘it is also the season for alerting drug-using drivers to take less comfort in drug detection testing being more difficult and less precise. Change is on the way.

Earlier this year, police in the UK began using reasonably affordable roadside ‘drugalysers’—an oral swab test—for detecting eight popular over-the-counter drugs, and the eight top-used recreational illegal drugs.  The former are clonazepam, diazepam, flunitrazepam, lorazepam, methadone, morphine, oxazepam and temazepam; the latter: cocaine, benzoylecgonine, cannabis, ketamine, LSD, MDMA/ecstasy, amphetamine and heroin.

The third topic is vehicle equipment for winter-driving and winter-driving safety tips.  Even in the relatively weather Vancouver, snow tires are highly recommended; and for snow sports enthusiasts—a must.  But remember they are minimally helpful on black ice, which usually forms first on bridges and elevated roadways.  Test for black ice by looking for water spray from the tires of vehicles around you.  If the temperature is below freezing and you can’t see any spray, you’re likely on black ice, which means any sudden steering adjustment or braking can cause loss of control.  The basics: allow more time, stay further back and slow down to avoid overdriving your lights.

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