An image saying the title of the story "Spaceport" and author "Sophie G. Elschner". It also includes the logo of Science & Fiction and a picture of a clock and an alarm sign warning of car accidents.

A tired cop tries to make it through a day of crashes.

Content warning

Car accident

The short story

“We have a car crash with two parties involved at the A24 exit to Sigmund Jähn Spaceport”, the dispatcher’s voice crackled through the radio of Oliver Schmidt’s police car.

“On it”, Oliver answered as his partner Alexander Riest came out of the service station with a cup of coffee in each one of his hands.

The spaceport opened six months ago. Since then, it had invigorated trade between Earth and Mars. Personal travel between the planets had increased tenfold. Masses of tourists flooded the port for their first-ever visit to the other side, leaving the port authorities overwhelmed with the rush for months. Even worse, for some reason tourists from both sides insisted on taking their cars and rovers with them instead of using public transport. And that quickly became Oliver’s problem. Many Martians underestimated the difference in gravity and got Earth-sick in their rover cars. That was a traffic risk on a normal day, but this night clocks had switched to daylight savings time. Combine the sleepy locals with a group of dizzy visitors and you have a recipe for disaster!

“Let’s gooooo!” Alexander trilled as he moved around the police car and opened the door to the passenger seat.

“I don’t know how you can be so cheerful all the time”, Oliver said while he let himself fall into the driver’s seat. “Nothing good is waiting when we arrive.”

“Of course, not”, Alexander replied with a grin. “But if you let that gloomy attitude take over, you are going to be too burned out to do this job forever.”

Gosh, sometimes he hated this guy! With a grunt, Oliver took the police car out of the service station’s parking lot. No sense in arguing with him when all he would get as an answer was to be called a grouch. Oliver took the coffee cup Alexander handed to him while steering the wheel with one hand. He took a long sip. It was his third cup this morning. He had not gotten enough sleep tonight.

“Wanna make a bet?” he said to Alexander.

“Car crash after microsleep.”

“I’d say a Martian getting sick at the wheel and losing control over their rover. What are we betting on this time?”

“Loser buys the next five rounds of Franzbrötchen.”


With that, they arrived at the scene of the accident. A rustic Martian rover had crashed into the guardrail after it had been rear-ended by a fancy Anderson vehicle. Both passengers were outside the car and alive. A terrified young Martian woman kept her hand to her bleeding forehead while a rich-looking local screamed at her at the top of his lungs. His face was red from anger. Another police car drove into the entry to the spaceport. Oliver gave the colleagues a quick nod, as Alexander called for an ambulance. Alexander then approached the two passengers and introduced himself.

“Good morning,” he said with a smile. “Would you like to tell me what happened?”

The woman tried to speak but the man immediately interrupted her: “That bitch destroyed my new car!”

As he shouted more obscenities towards her, spit flew all over the place. Oliver decided to take the crying woman to the side. He inspected the laceration on her forehead. The wound would need a couple of stitches.

“What is your name?”, Oliver asked while dressing her injury.

“Monica Chavez.”

“Monica, I called an ambulance for you,” Oliver told her pointing at her forehead. “You gonna get help for that in no time. Feeling a little dizzy?”

“No, but my head hurts,” she said sobbing. “I don’t know how it happened!”

“Take a deep breath and try to recall,” Oliver said taking one himself. He did not like seeing people cry. That shit tugged at his rusty heartstrings like nothing else. He could not let Alexander have the satisfaction of seeing that. There was more shouting from behind.

“I’m here visiting a friend. I was driving to the port to go back home and when I turned into the entry, I suddenly felt a jolt from behind. Next thing I know I’m in the guardrail. I really don’t know how it happened!”

Dammit, Oliver thought. The other guy probably fell asleep at the wheel. That sweet tooth is gonna make me buy a bakery full of Franzbrötchen when this is over.

In the background a scream could be heard: “I’ll sue her! I’ll sue her!”

“Oh my god,” she said in terror. “I just paid off my student loan!”

But before Oliver could answer that, he heard a loud “Hey!”. The rich man tried to send a fist to Alexander’s face. Alexander was fast enough to dodge. The man used the opportunity to charge towards the woman. Oliver walked in front of her and put an arm in front of himself to signal the man to stop.

“Let me through!”, the man demanded.

“Not a step further, buddy”, Oliver said. He could see Alexander and the two colleagues from the other police car rushing to help. The man was quickly handcuffed and sat down in the other police car. The ambulance arrived around the corner.

“Let me go!” he demanded. “Do you understand who I am?”

Oliver’s colleague slammed the police car door shut.

“You two injured?” she asked Oliver and Alexander.

“Everything’s okay,” Alexander said.

She nodded. And with that, they drove off to the police station where the man would be further interrogated. After Oliver had taken Monica’s details and recorded her full side of the story she was taken to hospital for a further check-up. Alexander saluted the ambulance as it left the exit from the spaceport. He turned around to look at Oliver with a wide grin plastered on his face.

“Well, I was right. The guy fell asleep at the wheel,“ he said while giving Oliver a tap on his back. „Seems like you owe me five rounds of Franzbrötchen, mate!”

Dammit! This day couldn’t get worse. But just as Oliver opened the door to sit back down in his car, he heard a screech and then a crash. He sighed. This was going to be a long day.

© Sophie G. Elschner

This story was originally written in English.

The paper

Robb, D. & Barnes, T. (2018). Accident rates and the impact of daylight savings time transitions. Accident Analysis & Prevention, 111, 193–201.

Connection between story and paper

The paper investigated whether the switch to and from daylight savings time influences accident rates. The authors compared road accidents, work accidents, and accidents in the home and community (including falls) that were registered by the New Zealand Accident Compensation Corporation from January 1 st, 2005, to April 2014. They discovered that road accidents increased by 16% on the Sunday of the switch to daylight savings time in spring and a 12% percent increase on the Monday thereafter compared to normal days. However, daylight savings time did not affect the other accident types. For the switch back to standard time in autumn, the authors found a slight increase in falls, and home and community accidents but no effect on work or road accidents. The scientists believe that accidents increase due to sleep deprivation and the ensuing lower alertness, the rush to work, and a smaller amount of ambient light during the commute. Interestingly for both cases, there was a so-called anticipation effect. Meaning that falls, home, and community accidents decreased the days before the time switch. The researchers think this happens because people might be more careful in anticipation of daylight savings time. For example, they might delay fun activities until the week after.


My thanks go to Dr. Divya Seernani for feedback on the story and a sensitivity reading.

The author

Sophie is a cognitive scientist and psychologist. She completed her doctoral thesis at the Department of Social Psychology and Decision Sciences at the University of Konstanz. This was followed by a period as a postdoc at the Fraunhofer Cluster of Excellence Integrated Energy Systems in the dimension science communication. The main focus of her work so far has been research into science communication in the energy transition, as well as aesthetic judgements and their connection to eye movements. Besides her academic work, she is an active science communicator and illustrator and always strives to expand her knowledge about different communication channels. Sophie has her own project called psychoSoph, where she draws comics about psychology, cognitive science, and neuroscience Have a look at her English and German website.

Dr. Helena Hartmann
Dr. Helena Hartmann
Neuroscientist, psychologist and science communicator (she/her/hers)