It's always important to drive safely.
While it might seem obvious, it's easy to forget sometimes that when we get behind the wheel, we are operating heavy machinery. Nearly every car on the market weighs more than a ton. Some pickups and SUVs can tip the scale at well over two tons, or three. And they go fast, too, with far more horsepower than the law would ever permit to be used on public roads. Even the humble Honda Civic has a top speed of nearly 170 mph, and many sports cars can max out above 200 mph. But more typical speeds, even street-legal speeds, are still plenty fast.
If you're familiar with Isaac Newton's Second Law of Motion, force equals mass times acceleration, you know that even a small difference in speed can have a huge effect on how much damage that hefty hunk of metal, plastic and glass can do — as well as on how long it takes for it to brake to a stop. That's one of the biggest reasons why intoxicated and distracted driving are against the law. They cut into a driver's reaction time and affect their ability to focus on what's in front of them, what the road conditions are and how fast they are going — a deadly cocktail, no pun intended.
While it's always good to keep these things in mind, this week and next week are among the most challenging of the entire year, and they require your diligence.
Halloween is Thursday, Oct. 31. At our nearly 46-degree latitude, by the time most kids head out for trick-or-treating — either with or without adult chaperones — it's dark out. While that might be good for spooks and scares, it puts more pressure on drivers to watch their speed and keep on the lookout for kids in the street. It goes without saying that driving at night is more difficult than driving during the day, because headlights only illuminate so much of the road, and some neighborhood streets are better lit than others.
If you're going out to trick-or-treat, or you have kids or grandkids who are old enough to be allowed to trick-or-treat on their own, make safety a priority. Flashlights, flashing red lights like those mounted on bicycles, and reflectors or reflective tape are all good ways to be more visible at night.
But drivers can't assume that every trick-or-treater will be tricked out with visibility enhancers. We can hope for a construction vest-clad Bob the Builder or reflector-taped astronaut, but we must also expect the pint-sized Darth Vader or gangly Grim Reaper, wearing a dark-colored costume with no lights or reflectors and focused on anything other than staying out of the path of an unsuspecting motorist.
Time and light aren't the only things that aren't in our favor when it comes to staying safe on Halloween. Unfortunately, there's another incompatibility between the way children and adults often celebrate the holiday.
If you are planning to attend a Halloween party, and you are planning to drink, know your limit and err on the side of safety. The legal limit is 0.08% blood alcohol content, but even at lower concentrations in the bloodstream, alcohol can still affect your reaction time and judgment. On a night when you need to be extra-cautious and especially alert, driving while impaired is an even worse idea than it always is. Arrange to have a designated driver or take another way home — whether it's a ride-share, a taxi or mass transit.
That goes for marijuana, too. While indulging is legal in Oregon, driving under the influence of marijuana is exactly as illegal as driving under the influence of alcohol. Like alcohol, marijuana can dull the senses, cause drowsiness and slow down reflexes. They're different substances with different effects, but neither one of them meshes well with driving.
Of course, Halloween isn't the only event this week that's associated with a heightened risk of traffic crashes. On Sunday morning, Nov. 3, clocks will roll back one hour.
The conventional wisdom has always been that gaining an extra hour at a time most people are already in bed is a good thing. More sleep is good, right? But some experts cast serious doubt on the supposed benefits of "falling back" in November.
Even if you wake up feeling extra-rested on Sunday, the human body is accustomed to a regular sleep cycle, and having an extra hour thrown into the works isn't part of the plan. Researchers say it can take as long as a week for your body to adjust its circadian rhythms after a time change, including the hour-forward, hour-back routine of Daylight Saving Time. In the meantime, you may find yourself having a harder time falling asleep and staying asleep, and as a result of your DST-induced restlessness, you may find yourself getting tired during the day — during drive time, for instance.
The Oregon Department of Transportation sent out a bulletin earlier this week advising people to be aware of the one-two punch of Halloween and the end of Daylight Saving Time.
"That mix could make for some dangerous driving conditions — but not if you plan ahead, make good choices and look out for each other," the department states.
Take heed. We're lucky, at least, that the weather forecast calls for clear skies. But there's lots to look out for, and you might not be at your best. Get your rest, take it slow, and don't drive if you're tired or under the influence.
And have a safe, and fun, Halloween.
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