Spring forward with RoSPA’s campaign for lighter evenings

Why would you not support a measure that could cut road deaths, carbon emissions, energy bills and obesity levels – all at a single stroke?

That’s the question I’ve been pondering for some time now while I help to promote a Private Members’ Bill that could go some way to giving the UK an extra hour of evening daylight all year round.

Everybody (except maybe Vampires and Goths) wants to let a little more light into their life, right? Although we can’t physically conjure more sunshine, we can align our waking hours more closely to the period of available daylight.

Research shows that a switch to Single/Double Summer Time (GMT+1 in winter and GMT+2 in summer) would do this.

Academics reckon that with a rising proportion of the working population – now three-quarters of the total – in white collar occupations, and with typical office hours starting at 9am, the concomitant darker winter mornings would affect fewer people than in the past.

Crucially, though, lives would be saved. For decades, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents has been at the forefront of the crusade to bring brighter nights to the UK – citing research that shows lighter evenings would save 80 lives and prevent more than 200 serious injuries on our roads each year.

In addition to the avoidance of grief and suffering, another positive consequence of fewer road accidents would be considerable annual savings to taxpayers.

The campaign has generated powerful momentum in recent months, winning the backing of at least 36,000 people and organisations through 10:10’s Lighter Later coalition – of which RoSPA is a member.

The initiative is closer to succeeding now than at any time since 1970, thanks to Rebecca Harris MP’s Private Members’ Bill – which passed its second reading in Parliament in December with a huge majority.

To help the Bill clear the next hurdle, RoSPA is calling on the public to help convince Westminster of its popularity.

You can do your bit by clicking the big, red “Support Our Campaign” button on our campaign website. Visitors to the webpage are also encouraged to lend their support to the Lighter Later movement by clicking on the logo that’s prominently displayed near the top.

If successful, Ms Harris’s Bill will lead to the Government carrying out a cross-departmental analysis of the benefits of SDST – which in turn could trigger a three-year trial.

If the evidence proves to be as irresistible as it is irrefutable, why should we continue to allow scores of people to die and scores more to be seriously hurt on our roads each year?

We estimate that about 5,000 deaths and 30,000 serious injuries have been caused needlessly in the UK since the experiment was concluded in 1971.

The Department for Transport estimated in 2009 that it would only cost £5million to implement Single/Double Summer Time and would save more than £138million every year thereafter.

As far as the last big experiment is concerned – when the UK stayed on British Standard Time (GMT+1) all year round from 1968-71 – there appears to be a significant difference between the empirical analyses of the outcomes, and the way the trial was reported in the media at the time – especially in relation to children travelling to school in the morning in Scotland.

The research shows that there were 17 per cent fewer road fatalities and serious injuries in Scotland at peak times than would have been expected without the trial – with small increases in casualties in the morning offset by larger decreases in the afternoon. The reduction in England and Wales at peak times was slightly less at 11 per cent.

The net effect was to prevent about 2,700 deaths and serious injuries on Britain’s roads for each year of the trial.

The argument about increased risk to school children during darker winter mornings has been well aired. But it only tells one side of the story. Children attend school for just over half the year, and the three weeks of Christmas holidays coincide with the year’s darkest period. Also, school journeys account for only about 1 in 10 child fatalities, with a higher proportion of these occurring on the way home from school.

During winter months, there are nearly three times as many fatal and serious injuries among children in Scotland in the evening peak hours as there are in the morning peak hours. The evening peak is also much more dangerous for adults, with 50 per cent more being killed or seriously injured at twilight.

We must remember, though, that life has changed a great deal since 1968-71.

The road environment and people’s travel habits have changed enormously. Society is more reliant on the car, fewer children walk or cycle to school, opportunities for leisure activities are significantly greater, people take holidays more frequently and overseas travel is much more common. The advancements in communication technology have opened up the opportunities for worldwide trade even further. Even weather conditions are altering as the effects of climate change are felt.

Yet none of the research conducted to date is able to address these factors successfully. And that is precisely why we continue to call for a thorough evaluation of the benefits to take place as soon as possible. We need to know once and for all if SDST will have the positive impact we think it will.

Some of the other benefits of SDST include a cut in annual CO2 emissions by nearly 500,000 tonnes, and a boost to the UK tourism industry of up to £3.5billion per year – as well as more opportunities for people to play sport and to enjoy outdoor activities.

There are many excellent reasons to sign up and support our campaign, so what are you waiting for?

Michael Corley

RoSPA’s campaigns manager

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