Does a full moon make you a lunatic on the road?
Is there really such a thing as moonlight madness? And does a full moon drive motorists mad? The answers may surprise you.
“There is a long history of belief that people ‘act crazy’ during a full moon,” says Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz, a research psychiatrist at UCLA and co-author of “You Are Not Your Brain.”
Although numerous studies have disproved the theory that people go bonkers when the moon is full, Dr. Carole Lieberman, a psychiatrist in Beverly Hills, Calif., says the lunar cycle still can mess with your mind and body. That may include some uncharacteristic and potentially dangerous driving behavior that could result in a traffic ticket, a car crash or both. And a ticket or crash could easily trigger a hike in your auto insurance premium.
However, no scientific study has established a direct link between a full moon and a rise in car crashes. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Governors Highway Safety Association and the Insurance Information Institute don’t have any statistics regarding full moons and traffic safety.
“Believing that the moon can make you crazy becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, so you begin acting on false beliefs and do things that you would otherwise never do,” Schwartz says.
Full moon agitates some drivers
That’s why experts warn motorists to exercise caution when they’re driving along full-moon-lit roads.
“There is a tendency for people to be more agitated during the full moon. Anything perceived as provocative, such as being cut off while driving, could lead to an outburst on the road,” says Dr. Michael Finkelstein, founder of SunRaven, a wellness center in Bedford, N.Y. “It is prudent to drive carefully (all of the time), of course, but during the full moon, special attention and patience is warranted.”
A 2003 study by Britain’s Churchill Insurance Group supports Finkelstein’s note of caution. The Churchill study, which examined 3 million auto insurance policies, showed that car crashes occurred 14 percent more often during a full moon compared with a new moon.
“We know that the moon is a strong source of energy, as it affects the tides and weather patterns, but were surprised by this bizarre trend,” a Churchill executive said when the insurer’s study was released.
John Crabb, a retired cop in Bloomington, Ill., says he always was busy when he worked on a night with a full moon.
“It seems like on those nights I also heard the craziest excuses for why someone was speeding, running stop signs and so on. Once a person tried to get out of a ticket claiming he was possessed every full moon,” Crabb says.
The fatigue factor
Aside from odd behavior during a full moon, you may be susceptible to full-moon-induced drowsiness. The extra light emitted by a full moon can cause insomnia, as people fall asleep and stay asleep more easily in total darkness.
“The gravitational effects of the full moon are at their peak. In physiologic terms, our bodies experience greater ‘tugging’ during this time, and some people are quite sensitive to this effect,” says Finkelstein, the SunRaven founder.
That tugging — and the associated lack of sleep — can prompt you to be less alert or even to nod off behind the wheel.
“Fatigue is a major factor in accidents while driving,” Finkelstein says.
“The extreme example is people falling asleep and driving off the road or into oncoming traffic. But sleepiness is associated with difficulty concentrating, which could make it harder to monitor your speed, stay within the lines or see unexpected or moving objects in your path. Being exhausted can also make you more sensitive and more likely to react aggressively when provoked in traffic.”
Drowsy driving causes more than 100,000 crashes a year, resulting in 40,000 injuries and 1,550 deaths, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
It isn’t just yourself and other drivers that you may want to look out for when there’s a full moon. You also may want to keep an eye out for crazed critters.
“I always prepare for a busy night when it’s a full moon because full-moon nights are often my busiest emergency shifts. They tend to be filled with the most bizarre cases,” says Dr. Jennifer Hennessey, a veterinarian in Sugar Land, Texas. “Animals’ behavior is different on these nights.”
A 10-year study released in 2007 by Colorado State University’s veterinary school established a potential link between a spike in emergency room visits for dogs and cats and the moon being at or near its fullest.
Hennessey says it’s not uncommon for dogs and cats to run into the streets more often during a full moon. “One full-moon night, I had three dogs and one cat who had all been hit by cars arrive within 15 minutes,” she says.
Hitting an animal can do hundreds or thousands of dollars of damage to a car. R.J. Lehmann, deputy director of The Heartland Institute’s Center on Finance, Insurance and Real Estate, says that as long as you have optional comprehensive coverage, your auto insurance should cover damage from an animal accident, but you’d have to pay your deductible.