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Can Your Driving Habits Survive The Fall Back To Standard Time?

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DRIVING DARK
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Don't forget -- this coming weekend we fall back to standard time at 2 a.m. on Sunday. That means setting all of your clocks back one hour before going to bed on Saturday night. However, the real task at hand in the hours, days and weeks following the return to standard time is staying alert while behind the wheel.

Over the past few weeks in Ontario, we've had a quick shift from balmy, summer-like conditions to below-seasonal cold temperatures and light snow. In Toronto specifically, there's been an increase in dreary, rainy days that have lessened visibility and made roads slick, and that's led to a rise in the number of pedestrian and cyclist accidents involving vehicles.

Even before the days started getting darker, Toronto Police reported more than 1,000 incidents involving cyclists and pedestrians being hit on city streets between June and the end of September. On a dark, wet day, in October a total of 18 pedestrians were struck and according to police that was almost three times the daily average.

The time change means there's going to be an extra challenge in the coming weeks. Darkness will fall much earlier and road conditions will start to deteriorate. Here's what you need to keep in mind before starting the car and getting on the road.

Standard Time and Your Brain

The CBC has cited past studies indicating that periodic shifts in time -- both falling back to standard time or springing forward to daylight saving time -- can have an effect on your body's internal clock, leading to greater risks on the road. Researchers have found that people walking during rush hour in the first two to three weeks after the clocks were set back were more than three times as likely to be struck and killed by a vehicle than in the week before the time change.

However, the research suggests it's not sleep issues that increases the number of deaths on the roads in November. Instead, motorists and pedestrians are used to eight months of daylight saving time and they may not immediately adjust their driving behaviours to account for darkness falling earlier in the day. Remember that it's our responsibility as drivers to always be on top of these changing conditions and adjust our strategies accordingly.

Distracted driving is now the leading cause of road deaths in Ontario.

What Can I Do as a Driver?

First and foremost, you want to make sure you're alert at all times. Adjunct assistant professor at Queen's University Judith Davidson tells the CBC it all starts with eating a healthy breakfast before you leave for work in the morning and staying hydrated. She also suggests spending time in well-lit rooms or getting outside in the sunshine as much as you can during the day, while taking a vitamin D supplement to compensate for the lack of sunlight during this time of year.

Once in your car, turn off interior vehicle lights and dim all onboard navigation devices. Be extra aware of the behaviours of other drivers -- especially if they're swerving between lanes or making abrupt stops. Do not hesitate to pull over and call police if you spot someone driving erratically.

If you start feeling drowsy while driving, pull over as soon as you can find a safe space (such as a parking lot or rest stop along the highway) and get some rest or a quick nap before continuing. Opening the window and cranking up the music will not help make you more alert -- only sleep can do that. And don't get behind the wheel at all if you feel sleepy to begin with.

Never, Ever Drive Distracted

It should go without saying that this is a big no-no. Distracted driving is now the leading cause of road deaths in Ontario. Yet, a recent survey by CAA South Central Ontario finds that one in three Ontarians admit they have driven while distracted by their mobile devices. The best way to prevent this behaviour is to stash your phone out of sight and out of reach before starting the car.

With darkness falling earlier, it's imperative to take greater precautions at this time of year and be extremely aware of your surroundings. Slow down when driving through school zones and residential neighbourhoods, and come to complete stops at stop signs and red lights. If you're turning, ensure the way is completely clear before making your next move. Regularly check your blind spots for any obstacles you may not anticipate.

Remember that it's important to limit your focus to the only activity you should be doing while behind the wheel -- driving.

What Happens if I Get a Ticket or I'm in an Accident?

If you find yourself involved in a collision, the same conditions apply regardless of the time of year. You cannot blame the sudden darkness or the weather, and you certainly can't expect to get out of a ticket or an at-fault accident by saying you were feeling sleepy at the time. You are responsible for your own driving behaviour at all times. Remember that even something as simple as not coming to a complete stop a stop sign can get you a ticket, and ultimately increase your auto insurance rate.

When it comes to distracted driving, if you are caught using your smartphone or another digital device while behind the wheel, you will receive a ticket and you could lose any conviction-free discount that you currently have with your car insurance provider. Earlier this year, InsuranceHotline.com found that this type of offence could hike your yearly premium by an average of $230 -- or 18 per cent. From there, the penalties and in turn, your premiums, will become harsher and increase if you have another infraction.

Don't Feel Alert? Don't Drive!

Whether you're falling back in November or springing forward in March, it's important to always be on your best driving behaviour. It's simple: if you don't feel alert enough to drive, leave the car behind and find an alternate transportation method. When you get behind the wheel, you take your own safety into account, as well as that of your passengers and every other motorist on the road. And even if it's a minor infraction and no one is hurt, there's still a chance your auto insurance premiums will go up.

So don't stay up too late on Saturday night and enjoy that extra hour of sleep, if you can. Think of it as doing your brain -- and your driving skills -- a big favour.

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