FORT WAYNE – Critics of Indiana’s move to observing daylight saving time have long argued that it puts children at risk because the later sunrise in spring and fall has them walking to school and bus stops in the dark.
But a Journal Gazette analysis of pedestrian deaths shows that the percentage of pedestrian deaths during dark morning hours has actually dropped since DST was adopted here.
The newspaper examined federal data on fatal crashes for 2003 through 2009.
April 1, 2006, was the first time Hoosiers observed DST; this gave us three full years of data before and after 2006; 2009 is the last year of federal data currently available.
In the three years after DST, pedestrian fatalities on weekdays in Indiana rose 35 percent, from 48 to 65. And the percentage of pedestrian deaths that took place from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. went up, too, from 38 percent to 43 percent.
But that morning increase – during the hours schoolchildren are most likely to be pedestrians – was not tied to darkness: The percentage of pedestrian fatalities in those hours that happened when it was dark fell from 56 percent to 46 percent, our analysis showed.
Nationwide, a federal study shows that most pedestrians killed are not schoolchildren at all: Pedestrians aged 65 and older made up 21 percent of fatalities, more than double the rate for any other age group.
That study, examining 10 years of data and released by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration in 2008, shows that nearly two-thirds of pedestrian deaths occur not during school hours, but between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. That was mirrored in Indiana’s data: Since DST has been observed, 59 percent of fatalities of school-aged children on weekdays were between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m., with the bulk of them between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m., the newspaper found.
Charles V. Zegeer, director of the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center and associate director of the University of North Carolina’s Highway Safety Research Center, said researchers know a lot about what affects pedestrian safety, and daylight saving time is not one of the factors.
Issues such as pedestrian visibility, law enforcement, pedestrian and motorist behavior and road design all have huge effects on the risk to pedestrians, he said.
In spite of whether you have DST or not, there’s some things we have control over, Zegeer said. Those things include making sure you are visible near a road by carrying a flashlight or wearing a reflective vest; making sure police are enforcing speed limits and ticketing drivers who don’t yield to pedestrians; having marked crosswalks and designing roads to slow down or calm traffic.
It’s all about visibility, behavior and awareness on the part of the pedestrian and the motorist, he said.
In fact, a 1995 study on DST and pedestrian safety published in the American Journal of Public Health shows that DST reduces fatal crashes overall and fatal pedestrian crashes specifically.
That study found that most crashes take place in the evening hours, when there is more traffic on the roads. By shifting an hour of daylight to those busier hours, the study found, the number of fatalities is reduced. If DST was extended year-round, the study said, it would have prevented 727 pedestrian deaths over four years.
But thousands of Hoosiers, one group says, want to go the other way.
Sue Dillon, Carmel resident and president of the Central Time Coalition, says the group has 13,000 signatures on a petition to move the state from Eastern time to Central, shifting an hour of daylight from the evening hours to the morning hours.
The group alleges Indiana’s placement in the Eastern Time Zone puts children at risk by making them walk to school or the bus stop in the dark, and has pages on its website filled with accounts of children getting struck by cars or of the victims of crimes in morning darkness.
I’m appalled at the number of rapes, Dillon said. That to me is as bad as the fatalities. Three of them were 12-year-olds. They were out there because they have no choice.
Dillon said the movement is gaining momentum.
We’ve got over 13,000 signatures and there’s another 1,000 out there we haven’t gotten yet, she said. We’re moving forward with this.
If Indiana were to move to Central time, it would add an hour of darkness to the time when traffic is heaviest – exactly the opposite of the recommendation in the American Journal of Public Health study. This year, the earliest sunset time in Allen County will be at 5:11 p.m., in the first two weeks of December. If the state were in the Central Time Zone, sunset would occur at 4:11 p.m. Sunrise would be about 6:20 a.m. instead of 7:20 a.m.
According to the study, that would actually cause more deaths, by making it dark for another hour when roads are busiest: Each fall, the study says, when clocks are turned back and the early evening has another hour of darkness, the number of crashes increased substantially.
But Dillon and the Central Time Coalition say that morning darkness lowers student test scores, disrupts our bodies biological clocks, costs millions of dollars in school delays and deprives children of needed sleep.
She also said there is a critical difference.
The difference is adults have the option of being out and being a pedestrian. Children don’t, Dillon said. There’s a lot of dangers to schoolchildren, and they have no choice but to be at the bus stop out there in the dark.
As to the earlier sunsets Central time would bring, Dillon said almost every student is delivered home by 4 p.m., so it would not effect children’s safety.
Darkness scares children. Dark streets are not only scary, they are unsafe, she writes on the group’s website, www.hoosiersforcentraltime.com. Many parents can’t/won’t accompany their children to their bus stop or schools. Among these are the students that are most likely to become school drop-outs. While morning darkness reduces students’ readiness to learn, it also means that every school day starts out as a frightening experience.
As for The Journal Gazette’s analysis showing the percentage of school-morning pedestrian deaths dropping, Dillon said she hadn’t seen those numbers but believes more children have been killed in morning darkness since 2009, which was the last year of the data examined. Regardless, she said, statistics are a slippery slope.