Are Dusk and Dawn Car Accidents Accurately Counted?

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New research suggests that the number of traffic accidents that happen at dusk and dawn are underreported or inaccurately reported by authorities.

New research by Evari GIS Consulting, a consulting firm based in San Diego, suggests that the number of motor vehicle accidents that happen at dawn and dusk may be inaccurately reported by authorities. Building an analysis of collisions in Tennessee between 2017 and 2020, the firm found that “88% of collisions occurring during dusk or dawn were misreported as either ‘night’ or ‘day,’ and that 20% of “collision ambient light conditions are misreported.” 

These figures have significant implications. As a report by Evari notes, accurately reported nighttime collisions in the Tennessee analysis “were five times more likely to result in a fatality than daytime collisions.” The report notes further that Federal Highway Administration figures show that half of fatal accidents happen at night, despite the fact that there are fewer people—whether motorists, pedestrians, or cyclists—on the road at night. “That means the fatality rate is three times the daytime rate because only 25 percent of vehicle miles traveled (VMT) occur at night,” according to Evari.

Why do these distinctions matter? Because the effectiveness of safety measures varies based on whether they are implemented during the daytime or the nighttime. Accurately identifying which collisions occur at dusk or dawn—as opposed to nighttime or daytime—can help policymakers determine whether and how to implement, at dusk and dawn, safety measures that are conventionally only used during the nighttime. 

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Reports state that about 76% of pedestrian fatalities occur at night, although it is highly possible that these fatalities could be a result of motor vehicle accidents that happen at dusk or dawn.

These measures include street lighting, reflective strips on signs, and larger and more visible signage. According to Evari, Federal Highway Administration data show that more street lighting can significantly mitigate nighttime collisions at rural and urban intersections and on highways, helping prevent injuries among both pedestrians and motorists.

As a report by Streetsblog notes, 76% of pedestrian fatalities are the result of nighttime crashes, though it’s possible that many of these in fact happen at dawn or dusk. In comments to Streetsblog, the Evari report’s author criticized transit policymakers for undervaluing the effectiveness of street lights as a safety measure; according to Streetsblog, “the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recognized the common streetlight… as a ‘proven safety countermeasure‘ for just last year.”

Traffic engineers don’t generally see lighting as a safety improvement, or at least it’s not at the forefront of their minds… It’s been largely left up to the lighting professionals,” said the report’s author. “And the street lighting industry will say safety is a component, but in practice, several other things are put ahead of it in line.”

More information on the data suggesting more motor vehicle accidents occur at dusk and dawn than have previously been reported is available via Evari and Streetsblog.

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