Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Should Daylight Saving Time be year-round?

Last weekend, Daylight Saving Time (DST) began and we collectively engaged in our annual springtime tradition of setting our clocks forward one hour. Joseph Stromberg suggests that we should leave them that way:
Looking at the lobbying groups in favor of DST, however, hints at the real benefit. DST means that people who work a standard day shift (and kids who go to school during the day) get more daylight after work. Manufacturers like this because we tend to engage in leisure activities, take short trips, and buy things after work — but not before — so a longer DST slightly increases sales.

For the same reason, a year-round DST would also be nice for anyone who works inside and simply likes to occasionally see the sun during the short days of winter. It'd mean getting up when it's a bit darker out in exchange for an extra hour of light after work. In Washington, DC, for instance, sunsets in the dead of winter would be at roughly 6 pm, instead of 5, and sunrises would be at 8:30 am instead of 7:30.

The extra hour of morning darkness would be a sacrifice. But the extra hour of evening light would be a bigger benefit to all of us for the same reason that manufacturers like it: we're much less likely to spend it inside, where we have artificial light either way.

Evidence can be found in the fact that primetime TV ratings sink noticeably whenever DST goes into effect, and in a recent study that showed children get more exercise on days with later sunsets, regardless of weather or school hours. This is why most people are looking forward to turning their clocks forward this weekend — they'd prefer to have sunlight after work, rather than before, especially during the shrinking days of winter.

Research also hints at a number of unrelated benefits of DST. For instance, one study found that rates of outdoor robberies declined significantly when DST was extended, after controlling for unrelated factors. The researchers' hypothesis is that some crimes are more easily carried out during dark, and fewer people are going about their evening routines in the dark when DST is in effect.

Similarly, there's evidence that a year-long DST might reduce traffic-related deaths, especially for pedestrians. On the whole, daylight saving means that more travel occurs during daylight, when it's easier to see pedestrians, which is why researchers calculate that full-time DST could save a few hundred lives annually.
I've written about this before, and I completely agree. I enjoy that extra hour of daylight in the summer, I hate having to drive home in the dark in the winter, and so I'd just as soon eliminate standard time completely. We are only in "standard time" for four months out of the year as it is, and the constant switch back and forth is disruptive. So let's just have year-round DST.

I'm not the only person who feels this way:
A Denver fitness instructor, Sean Johnson, last week launched a campaign called Save the Daylight Colorado. Johnson aims to put a measure seeking to abolish clock changes in the state on the ballot at the November 2016 elections.

“I’m a personal trainer and people were telling me they feel drained of energy during the winter and then when the clocks go forward it takes them a month to get used to the new schedule and they hate that,” he told the Guardian. “There are many reasons not to keep switching.”

Johnson cited research presented last year by a cardiovascular expert, Dr Amneet Sandhu, who is a fellow at the University of Colorado, Denver. Sandhu’s research suggests that hospitals see an increase of up to 25% in the number of patients suffering heart attacks shortly after the clocks go forward in the spring.

Loss of sleep resulting from the mandated time change in the early hours of Sunday morning affects the circadian rhythm and can be risky for those already vulnerable to a heart attack, according to Sandhu.
There are apparently also studies showing that car accidents spike and worker productivity plummets immediately following the weekends we spring forward and fall back.
Johnson said he liked summer time – just not the idea of having to put the clocks forward to achieve it. He wants Daylight Saving Time all year round.

Idaho last week withdrew legislation that proposed doing just that, citing federal law that it interpreted as allowing for standard time all year round or switching back and forth, but not 365 days of Daylight Saving Time.

Johnson, however, said he believed the law was ambiguous and if he could gather approximately 100,000 signatures to put his initiative on the ballot, and then have enough people vote for it, Colorado could become the first state to be ahead of time all the time. New Mexico is considering legislation to switch to Daylight Saving Time year round, while a proposal to impose standard time year round in Washington state is being considered. A proposal to do so in Utah was recently defeated.
Apparently there's a bill before the Texas Legislature to do away with the time change as well. It will be interesting to see if any of these initiatives go anywhere, and I'm sure the business interests who benefit from the time change will have something to say about them.

For what it's worth, let this post be a vote for year-round DST. Now that we've sprung forward, let's never fall back again!

A couple of years ago Allison Schrager at The Atlantic suggested that the United States do away with Daylight Saving Time by consolidating into two, rather than four, time zones. Michael O. Church's defense for keeping things the way they are is worth a read as well.

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