Hello darkness, my old enemy…

Spring forward, fall back! The clocks go back an hour on Sunday morning (29 October) - and that’s bad news for road users.

Car on motorway at night

The change means the mornings will be a bit lighter for a few weeks, but it also means the afternoons and evenings will be darker, making the roads more dangerous.

Darkness dangers

According to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), road casualty rates during the working week peak between 8am and 10am and 3pm and 7pm, with the afternoon peak being higher.

The rates increase with the arrival of darker evenings and worsening weather conditions - RoSPA notes that, every autumn when the clocks go back and sunset occurs earlier in the day, road casualties rise significantly.

The effects are worse for the most vulnerable road users such as children, the elderly, cyclists and motorcyclists.

In 2015, for example, pedestrian deaths on UK roads rose from 27 in September to 42 in October, 45 in November and 58 in December.

The casualty rate for all road users increased from 573 per billion vehicle miles in October to 619 per billion vehicle miles in November, before falling back slightly to 614 in December.

The Department for Transport has previously suggested that lighter evenings could prevent around 80 deaths and at least 200 serious accidents from occurring on our roads each year.

This is why RoSPA has repeatedly called for the UK to switch to end the movement of the clocks forward and back in spring and summer. But the proposal always meets stiff opposition, especially in Scotland, where it would not get light in the morning until 10am or later if the country remained on Greenwich Mean Time plus 1 hour through the winter months.

It would require an Act of Parliament to change the current system, but there seems to be little appetite for legislation at the moment.

Driving in the dark

Staying safe behind the wheel when the clocks go back is largely common sense, although it does put emphasis on maintenance, so you should put some time aside to check your vehicle as winter approaches.

It’s important is to check all your lights are working - and that you use them as soon as there is any reduction in visibility.

Also keep your windows free from of condensation on the inside and dirt on the outside. Take the time to dry or clean them before setting off.

Crucially, you need to keep your wits about you, especially in the late afternoon and early evening, when the roads are busy.

Be seen, be safe

With cyclists at particular risk, RoSPA recommends they wear brightly coloured or, ideally, fluorescent and reflective clothing at all times, even during daylight hours, as visibility might still be poor. 

Cyclist wearing fluorescent vest, cycling on dark road

 

Cyclists should also remember that, by law, their bikes must be fitted with reflectors and they must have front and rear lights switched on when it’s dark.

The ‘Be seen, be safe’ message also applies extended to pedestrians and joggers as they can easily be missed – and subsequently hit – by motorists who have not seen them because they’re wearing dark clothing. 

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