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'Falling back' could increase car accident rates

Driving when you're feeling "a little off" can be dangerous. People still do it, though.

Sometimes, it is harder to avoid than other times. For example, when we "spring forward" for daylight savings time and "fall back" for the return to standard time, it can affect everything from our appetite to our driving ability.

"Sleep is a kind of outward symbol of the timing processes of our body," explains Chris Winter, M.D., a sleep specialist. "Our bodies function on an internal schedule, from hormone release to body temperature to cognition - and sleep is linked to them all."

Whether it's trying to do without an hour of sleep in springtime or simply putting up with a new schedule in the fall, the change to and from daylight savings can have serious effects on your mood, cognition and yes, driving.

In 1999, researchers from Stanford University and Johns Hopkins analyzed 21 years' worth of data on fatal car accidents. That was a significant data set, and it indicated a small but noticeable increase in fatalities on the Monday after the change to daylight savings time. There were an average of 83.5 deaths that day, compared to 78.2 on an average Monday.

Similarly, a review of injury data in mines between 1983 and 2006 found a 5.7% increase in workplace injuries on the Monday after the switch to daylight savings time. That corresponded with a 68% increase in workdays lost to injuries, meaning that the injuries people suffered that day were more severe than average. That research was published in 2009.

People just may not drive as well as they otherwise would when their sleep is shortened or rescheduled.

If you have been in a crash with a drowsy driver, they may have been negligent or careless. If you were injured, be sure to talk to a personal injury attorney about your rights.

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