Photo of pedestrians crossing street at night in front of car
Learn and practice the important safety rule: Be Seen To Be Safe.

Toward the end of this month, thanks in part to Benjamin Franklin's rather whimsical suggestion in 1784, we will be turning our clocks back and our lights on earlier as daylight saving time ends on October 29.

While most parents probably welcome daylight saving in spring because kids can play outside into the evening, the loss of an hour in the fall means it suddenly gets dark much earlier. The change puts school-aged children at greater risk of injury from traffic accidents and can disrupt younger children's sleep schedules.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that more than half of all pedestrian fatalities and more than one-fourth of bicyclist fatalities of school-aged children occur in low light and dark conditions, the very conditions accentuated by the time change.

Traffic injuries spike

Emergency room staff at UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento typically see a significant increase in the number of traffic-related injuries when daylight saving ends.

“For approximately two weeks after the time change, we'll see a 50 percent spike in the number of patients coming through our doors,” says Roxanne Woods, injury prevention coordinator for UC Davis Health System. “And that includes both adults and children.”

Woods says a few easy, common-sense strategies can help adults and kids remain safe as we head into the darker winter months.

  • Learn and practice the important safety rule: Be Seen To Be Safe.
  • Wear bright or fluorescent clothing; day-glo green, hot pink and construction-worker orange amplify light and help the wearer stand out.
  • Carry a flashlight and wear reflective gear at night; colors that make people stand out during the day don't work at night.
  • Pedestrians should walk against the traffic on roadways without sidewalks.
  • Bicyclists should ride with the flow of traffic, using bike lights on front and back and wearing reflective tape on helmets, clothing and shoes.
  • Remind kids to “stop, look left-right-left, look behind them, and listen” before leaving a curb, even with traffic signals.
  • Use crosswalks: Never cross streets between parked cars; it is the number one reason why children get hit by cars. Don't jaywalk.

New sleep schedules

In terms of sleep schedules when daylight saving time ends, adults and older children usually adapt quickly to the new sleep and wake times. The change in time, however, can be more difficult for young children.

Sleep schedules for children are related to their internal clocks. They are used to going to sleep when they feel tired, not at a specific time on the clock. Trying to get a child to go to sleep an hour earlier — at 7 p.m. rather than 8 p.m. — might not be too hard after the clocks are changed because it won't matter to a toddler; their internal clock makes them sleepy. Of course, they'll also be awake and ready to go an hour earlier in the morning, perhaps at 6 a.m. rather than 7 a.m.

UC Davis pediatricians tell parents that one way to ease into the annual time change is to get children used to a new bedtime a week or so before daylight saving actually ends. They offer the following tips for making the transition:

  • Try putting children to bed about 15 minutes later during the days leading up to the end of daylight saving time.
  • Let kids sleep in a little bit, waking them a few minutes later each day.

By keeping nap times regular and at the same time each day (adjusted for the time change), these modest techniques can help a child get to bed “earlier” but closer to their normal sleep patterns after daylight saving time ends.

What Ben Franklin might have originally suggested in jest is no joke when it comes to effects of turning clocks back an hour each year. Poor Richard's Almanac would no doubt have stressed that in the modern age, shorter days require heightened awareness regarding proper sleep and traffic safety.