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Time shift a setback for safe driving

PORTLAND – Come Monday, when the school and workweek returns to Pacific Standard Time, 17-year-old Jake Jackson will be driving on roads quilted in darkness, guided only by swatches of light from the lamps above the highway.

He installed extra-strong headlights on his Honda Passport to see better in the dark and blasts the radio to keep him awake during his 40-minute commute between high school and home.

Jackson has been commuting the 15.3 miles between Lake Oswego High School and his Clackamas home for more than a year. With just one season behind him, he already has noticed how driver behavior changes when commuters lose an hour of daylight in the evening.

Like Jackson, now that clocks have moved back an hour, some alert commuters will adjust their driving patterns to grab whatever bits of daylight they can. They have good reason: State transportation statistics show a spike in car crashes during the evening rush hour between October and November, and officials partly blame the return to standard time.

“Around dusk is one of the most difficult times to drive,” says Mark Wills, who collects and analyzes crash data for the Oregon Department of Transportation.

In October 2003, the department recorded 271 crashes statewide around 6 p.m. In November, officials recorded 313 crashes about the same time – a more than 15 percent increase. That year daylight-saving time ended Oct. 26.

Statistics from 2002 and 2001 followed similar patterns.

Drivers accustomed to whooshing home in light strong enough to read a newspaper by tend to crawl as their eyes adjust to the twilight.

So Jackson tries to keep an extra car length or two behind the driver in front of him. And he sticks to the speed limit.

As a result, “it’s exhausting driving all that way,” Jackson says. “I’m scared of driving in the dark because, mentally, you have to be more aware of what’s going on around you. More people aren’t paying attention.”