Why don't we end daylight savings time?
October 23, 2019 2:05PM
To end daylight saving time (and, by the way, it's "daylight saving" without the second "s") nationwide, we'd need an act of Congress. The Uniform Time Act of 1966 established rules for time zones across the United States and a uniform nationwide daylight saving time period, and per that act, states can opt out of daylight saving, but they can't "spring forward" permanently without Congress.
In 2019, 36 states have proposals for choosing either standard time or daylight saving time and ending the twice-yearly clock confusion. A Florida bill to move to permanent daylight saving time passed in 2018, but it still needs approval from Congress. Although these bills do have widespread, bipartisan support, opponents claim that ending the practice would create confusion and hurt businesses, particularly if the changes are only applied at the state level.
So, why do we change our clocks twice a year in the first place—and does daylight saving time really save anything?
How Daylight Saving Time Started
It certainly did when it was introduced in the early 20th century. Germany was the first country to establish daylight saving time on April 30, 1916. The move was intended to conserve electricity during World War I, and weeks after the Germans enacted it, the United Kingdom did the same. The logic: People could add an hour of sunlight to their workdays by adjusting their schedules. At a time when electricity was relatively expensive, that was a big deal.
The concept spread throughout the Northern Hemisphere. On March 31, 1918, the United States implemented daylight saving time as a wartime measure. Contrary to popular belief, farmers didn’t benefit, and in fact, farmers led some of the first (unsuccessful) efforts to repeal the practice. Congress passed a repeal bill in 1919, and after that, states were left to decide for themselves whether or not they wanted to observe daylight saving.
Except for a brief return to national daylight saving time during World War II, states implemented daylight saving in different ways, falling back and springing forward on different dates (or not at all). That caused tremendous confusion and plenty of lost productivity, so Congress passed the Uniform Time Act. Today, 48 states observe daylight saving; Hawaii and Arizona are the outliers.
Arguments Against Changing the Clock
In recent years, some policymakers and activists have questioned whether daylight saving makes sense in a modern world. Sure, we might gain an hour of sunlight, but is that worth the confusion that inevitably results from twice-annual time changes?
"We know a lot more than we did over 50 years ago, when it became sort of the uniform standard over the United States," Oregon state representative Julie Fahey, who regularly sponsors a bill that would enact year-round daylight saving in the state, told National Geographic. "The time to talk about it is now."
Some of the arguments for abolishing twice-annual time changes include:
- It's unhealthy. A study presented at the American Academy of Neurology's 68th Annual Meeting in 2016 found that daylight saving transitions "may be tied to an increased risk of ischemic stroke." The theory: Time changes disrupt our circadian rhythms, resulting in as much of an 8 percent increase in the overall rate of strokes.
- It hurts productivity. By one estimate, sleep deprivation costs the U.S. economy about $411 billion per year. Time changes disrupt sleep schedules, particularly when "springing forward" and losing an hour.
- It might actually reduce energy efficiency. A 2008 study from the National Bureau of Economic Research found that in Indiana, residential electricity demands actually increased when the state enacted daylight saving time.
However, proponents of DST note that it reduces pedestrian fatalities during dawn and dusk hours. The practice is also beneficial for some industries; in 1986, representatives of the grill and charcoal industries claimed that extending daylight saving time from six to seven months would provide them with an additional $200 million in sales.
In any case, the tide seems to be turning against DST (albeit very, very slowly). Scott Yates, an entrepreneur and anti-time-change activist, runs the website #LockTheClock to advocate for an end to changing the clocks twice a year.
"The good news is that compared to when I started working on this, I can see the momentum changing in the press inquiries I'm getting, the legislative interest, the visitors to this site, and more," he wrote. "So, I know you won't like changing the clock again this fall, even though this is the one where you get an extra hour of sleep. But you can get that sleep with a bit of comfort that the world of clock changing is slowly drifting away."