If you forgot to turn back your clocks yesterday, you have by this time either:
1. Discovered your error, or
2. Found an extra hour to dawdle over your morning coffee.
En route tonight, you will be reminded that, to humans, it appears to get dark an hour earlier than it did last week. To God, however, it will appear to get dark at almost exactly the same time as it did on Saturday (about two minutes earlier, if you want to quibble about details.) But that's because today we will say the sun set at about 5:15 p.m. EST, whereas two days ago we said it set at 6:17 p.m. EDT.
One of the ways this affects the toiler who travels to and from his work each day is that under daylight time most people make their way home in daylight, whereas under standard time hundreds of thousands of District Liners must travel in darkness or in the dangerous half-light of a gloomy winter evening.
Unfortunately, few pedestrians give much thought to winter's changed conditions of travel. And many motorists think "winterizing" is limited to antifreeze and snow tires.
A few days ago, I told you that traffic fatalities were running at an all time low in the District of Columbia. By Oct. 20 of last year, there had been 40 deaths, 20 of them pedestrians. On the same date this year, the count was 36 deaths -- of which 12 were pedestrians. In other words, the pedestrian percentage of the toll has fallen from 50 percent to 33 percent, and eight pedestrians who might otherwise have died are still alive.
The way to keep pedestrians alive is to remind them of some simple truths that traffic safety experts have reiterated frequently -- things like this:
If you run for the bus, you risk a twisted ankle, a fall, a heart attack. Don't run; start out a minute earlier.
If you run into or across the street, you risk being struck by a vehicle you didn't have time to notice. Don't jaywalk, and above all, don't "jayrun." Don't dart out between parked cars. Don't disobey traffic lights or "Don't Walk" signals.
Wear light-colored clothing that will be visible to a motorist on a rainy night. To a driver, your wet black raincoat looks like wet black asphalt.
There will be another bus in a few minutes. Don't risk being crippled for life in a foolish attempt to save a few minutes. Don't gamble all of the remainder of your life expectancy against a few minutes.
You may be one of the eight pedestrians who didn't die in 1980. Wouldn't you like to keep it that way?
Motorists should remember that they are part-time pedestrians, and that they will therefore be just as well advised to heed the advice of safety experts as are full-time pedestrians who use mass transit.
In addition, motorists have a special list of responsibilities. They should make sure their brakes are working properly. A leaking master cylinder should be taken as a warning that more ominous danger may be imminent. If you have ever been the driver of a car in which the master brake cylinder "let go," you won't have to be persuaded to have a qualified mechanic examine your braking system.
The most common auto defect may be lighting: misaimed headlights, burned out bulbs, blown fuses and even the flasher gizmo without which turn indicators won't function.
The average motorist may need the help of at least a filling station mechanic to correct some of his lighting problems, but all he needs to find out whether everything is working properly is about two minutes of time and patience. That's how long it takes to turn on headlights, walk around the car to make sure everything is lit that should be lit, turn on the turn indicators and make a similar inspection, then look in the rear view mirror for a red reflection as the brake pedal is depressed.
The final step should be to turn on the headlights of your stationary vehicle at night and then walk about 200 feet ahead to look back at those headlights and see what oncoming drivers see. If one headlight is askew, particularly if it is cocked in such a way that it will bother an oncoming driver, you know you need profesional help.
Once you have put your vehicle in good working order, try to get your brain in high gear, too. Don't forget to turn on your lights at dusk. Don't use high beams in city traffic. And if an oncoming driver blinks his lights at you, think hard and see if you can figure out what he's trying to tell you.