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Working Paper No. 14-05

Spring Forward at Your Own Risk: Daylight Saving Time and Fatal Vehicle Crashes
Austin Smith
October 2014


Despite mounting evidence that Daylight Saving Time (DST) fails in its primary goal of saving energy, some form of DST is still practiced by over 1.5 billion people in over 60 countries. I demonstrate that DST imposes high social costs on Americans, specifically, an increase in fatal automobile crashes. DST alters fatal crash risk in two ways: disrupting sleep schedules and reallocating ambient light from the morning to the evening. First, I take advantage of the discrete nature of the transitions between Standard Time and DST to measure the impact of DST on fatal crashes in a regression discontinuity design. Then, to measure the duration of the effect, I exploit variation in the coverage of DST created primarily by a 2007 policy change, in a day-of-year fixed effects model. Both models reveal a short-run increase in fatal crashes following the spring transition and no aggregate impact in the fall. Employing three tests, I decompose the aggregate effect into ambient light and sleep mechanisms. I find that shifting ambient light reallocates fatalities within a day, while sleep deprivation caused by the spring transition increases risk. The increased risk persists for the first six days of DST, causing a total of 302 deaths at a social cost of $2.75 billion over the 10-year sample period, underscoring the huge costs of even minor disruptions to sleep schedules.


JEL classification: R41, I18, Q48