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When time isn't ripe for walking

Evening strolls can be risky before we all adjust to the earlier nightfall.

Associated Press
Published November 3, 2007


WASHINGTON - After clocks are turned back this weekend, pedestrians walking during the evening rush hour are nearly three times more likely to be struck and killed by cars than before the time change, two scientists calculate.

Ending daylight saving time translates into about 37 more U.S. pedestrian deaths around 6 p.m. in November compared with October, the researchers report.

Their study of risk to pedestrians is preliminary but confirms previous findings of higher deaths after clocks are set back in fall.

It's not the darkness itself, but the adjustment to earlier nighttime that's the killer, said professors Paul Fischbeck and David Gerard, both of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

Fischbeck, who regularly walks with his 4-year-old twins around 6 p.m., is worried enough that he'll be more cautious starting Monday. "A three times increase in the risk is really dramatic, and because of that we're carrying a flashlight."

Fischbeck and Gerard conducted a preliminary study of seven years of federal traffic fatalities and calculated risk per mile walked for pedestrians. They found that per-mile risk jumps 186 percent from October to November.

The research indicates that the risk is caused by the trouble both drivers and pedestrians have adjusting when darkness suddenly comes an hour earlier.

The reverse happens in the morning when clocks are set back and daylight comes earlier. Pedestrian risk plummets, but there are fewer walkers then, too. The 13 lives saved at 6 a.m. don't offset the 37 lost at 6 p.m., the researchers found.

The risk for pedestrian deaths at 6 p.m. is by far the highest in November than any other month, the scientists said. The danger declines each month through May.

"Benjamin Franklin conceived of daylight saving time as a way of saving candles," said spokesman Russ Rader of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety of Arlington, Va. "Today we know it saves lives."