Reduction of traffic accidents—particularly fatal traffic accidents—has long been at the center of public debate and the ambition of state and federal policymakers. The 1960s proved a watershed decade for transformation of traffic safety. With traffic fatalities on the rise in the 1960s, spiking at 49,000 traffic fatalities in 1965, public concern over traffic safety began to dominate the national discussion. Culminating with the 1965 publication of Ralph Nader’s “Unsafe at Any Speed”—a book that issued scathing criticisms of vehicle manufacturers for their willfully rejecting the addition of safety features into their automobiles—policymakers reacted. By calling on states to erect highway safety measures, the Highway Safety Act passed by Congress in 1966 was the first of many concentrated efforts to reduce this increasing problem. One important feature of this legislation was that it created the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA, which primarily operates as a safety administrator, promulgating rules designed to increase safety on highways, but also to increase safety of the vehicles themselves by imposing regulations on manufacturers.
With the bulk of this debate happening from the 1960s forward, traffic safety has long been on the minds of citizens and policymakers. Improving safety based on readily observable causes—prohibiting intoxicated driving, reducing speed limits, requiring operating traffic signals, etc.—is one thing, but as a recent study reveals, sometimes the causal or correlative connection between a phenomenon and traffic safety is more mysterious.
A recent study by University of Colorado-Boulder PhD candidate Austin Smith revealed a curious correlation between daylight savings time and increased traffic fatalities. This study reviewed data on fatal vehicle accidents from 2002 to 2011 and compared the number of fatal accidents that occur just before and after daylight savings time changes took effect.