RoSPA and RSA: The permanent summer of 1971

2021 marks the 50-year anniversary of a largely forgotten experiment that may have saved hundreds of lives on Britain’s roads.

Between 1968-71 the UK government embarked on a trial that saw the clocks move forward in March 1968 and not turn back until October 1971. In other words, for three years we had permanent British Summer Time (BST).

As part of the experiment, road casualty figures were collected during the morning (7-10am) and in the afternoon (4-7pm) in the two winters before the try-out (1966/67 and 1967/1968) and in the first two winters where BST was retained.

The data revealed that approximately 2,500 fewer people were killed and seriously injured during the winters of 1968/69 and 1969/70 compared to the previous two years. This represented a reduction of 11.7 per cent.

However, after 1971, the experiment was wound up and shelved. Yet every year, when the clocks change in the Autumn, we see an increase in the number of road deaths and collisions in the UK.

The daylight savings spike

Last year, according to statistics provided by the Department for Transport, pedestrian deaths as a result of road accidents rose from 36 in October, to 54 in November and 57 in December. The casualty rate for all road users increased from 427 per billion vehicle miles in October, to 479 per billion vehicle miles in November – we call this the daylight savings spike.

In 2018 a similar pattern emerged, with pedestrian fatalities as a result of road accidents rising from 40 in October, to 56 in November and 70 in December.

RoSPA believes we should maintain permanent British Summer Time to ensure lighter afternoons and evenings, because the road accident rate is higher later in the day. During the 1968-71 experiment, casualties did increase in the morning but the decrease in road accidents in the evening far outweighed this.  

Matthew T Rader Mhrc8ydlg3c Unsplash
RoSPA believes we should maintain permanent British Summer Time to ensure lighter afternoons and evenings, because the road accident rate is higher later in the day.

Reducing road accidents

There are a number of reasons why there are more accidents in the afternoons and evenings, such as:

  • Motorists are more tired after a day’s work and concentration levels are lower
  • Children tend to go travel directly to school in the morning but often digress on their way home, which increases their exposure to road dangers
  • Adults tend to go shopping or visit friends after work, increasing their journey times and exposure to road dangers
  • Social and leisure trips are generally made in the late afternoon and evenings, again increasing time on the road.

From the outset of our partnership RoSPA and RSA identified reducing road accidents involving younger drivers (17-35) and motorists in later life. In our joint report ‘Enabling Safety’ published in October 2020 a number of key interventions were recommended such as improving road safety education in schools and the further development of telematics technology to support safer driving should also be explored, including as part of insurance packages. Scrapping the October clock change would also help reduce the number of road deaths in all age groups.

For more than six decades, RoSPA has campaigned to save lives by altering the daylight savings system. Alongside partners like RSA Group, RoSPA continues to call for the government to learn from the 1968-71 trial and employ British Summer Time – GMT+1 – all year round.

If you agree about scrapping the October clock change why not write to your MP? RoSPA have a template letter available on their website.

Shaping a smarter tomorrow

Raising awareness of issues and changing behaviours through education is at the heart of RSA’s Confident Futures strategy and our ambition to shape a smarter tomorrow. Our partnership with RoSPA is an important part of that journey. Together we aim to raise awareness of the simple steps we can all take that allow us to live safer, more active lives.