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You’re More Likely To Hit a Deer This Week while Driving

  • Clocks across the US will be set back an hour this weekend, and one unintended consequence is that more deer are likely to be hit by a vehicle next week.
  • New research published in Current Biology found that the week after the fall time change sees an average of 16 percent more deer-vehicle collisions.
  • How much more dangerous twilight will be in the coming week depends on where you are. Countries on the eastern edge of a time zone are likely to see more deer hit than those on the western side.

Criticism of how the United States handles daylight saving time is about as old as the practice itself. We now have one more reason to think about not switching the clocks every six months: more roadkill.

A new study published in Current Biology by University of Washington researchers found that the week after the annual shift back to standard time sees a 16 percent increase in deer-vehicle collisions each year. Without falling back on daylight saving time, the U.S. would see 36,550 fewer of these collisions — including 33 human deaths and more than 2,000 human injuries — and save $1.2 billion in collision costs each year, the researchers estimated. On average, approximately 2.1 million deer-vehicle collisions occur in the US each year. These incidents are responsible for more than $10 billion in economic losses as well as 59,000 human injuries and 440 human deaths.

The reason why there are more collisions when the clocks fall back is relatively easy to understand. The researchers found that deer-vehicle collisions are 14 times more frequent in the two hours after sunset than before sunset. Animals naturally stick to their pattern, no matter what human clocks say, continuing with their lives even as traffic patterns shift to an hour “earlier” and cause more driving at dusk. Moving our clocks into November increases the amount of low-light traffic, putting more deer and vehicles at risk. The potential for deer-vehicle interactions is already heightened in November, because that’s when white-tailed deer (and some other ungulates) have their short breeding season.

The study’s authors also found that there is a difference between eastern and western areas within a given time zone. Counties on the eastern edge (which have earlier sunrises and sunsets compared to the western edge and a correspondingly greater amount of low-light twilight) had an average of 1.4 times more collisions than counties on the western end of a time zone. These findings extend to the expected changes in deer-vehicle collisions should the US permanently move to daylight saving time (as the US Congress is considering), with some states, such as Kansas, seeing an expected 2.5 percent increase in such collisions . In comparison, Maine would see an 8.3 percent decrease.

If the U.S. ditched biannual clock shifts and instead switched to using only standard time, researchers estimate, deer-vehicle collisions across the country would increase by an average of 5.2 percent, causing an expected additional 66 human deaths and more than $2 to will result. billion in economic loss every year.

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