Nov 03 2022

Daylight Saving Time or Standard Time

It’s that time of year again – the time when we debate, yet again, whether or not we should get rid of shifting the clocks twice a year and if so, which time to make permanent, DST or standard time. It does seem like this debate has been heating up in recent years, but it is unclear if we have a political consensus sufficient to make a change. In March of this year the Senate actually passed the Sunshine Protection Act, which would make DST permanent. However, the bill has stalled in the House. In previous years such measures have simply died in committee. This time around it just seems like politicians have more important things on their plate.

DST was first instituted in the US in 1918 as a wartime measure, to reduce energy costs by extending light in the evening when people are active. The measure was brought back during WWII, after which it was left to the states whether to keep DST. In 1966, however, the Uniform Time Act was passed to encourage all states to adopt DST. Initially DST was instituted for 6 months of the year, from late spring to early fall. In 1974 DST was made year round, but this led to immediate complaints that children were going to school in the morning and parents were going to work in pitch dark, and the measure was repealed the next year. DST was also extended in 2007 until just after Halloween, ostensibly to make trick-or-treaters safer walking the streets. But there have also been significant industry lobbies. The candy industry lobbied hard for DST to extend past Halloween. But many industries, from golf to barbeque supplies, make more money from extended DST. Now DST is 8 months out of 12.

The question remains – which option is best: to keep the current system where we change between DST and Standard Time twice a year, to make DST permanent, or standard time permanent? There is no one objective answer because every option has trade-offs.

It seems fairly clear at this point that the changing of the clocks itself (regardless of time) is a bad thing. It disrupts our circadian rhythm. Essentially the entire country gets jet lag for about a week, twice each year. This has been linked to increases in cardiovascular events, strokes, depression, and car accidents. It’s also a bit of a pain. Most people agree that changing the clocks should go, but can’t agree on which standard to keep:

An AP-NORC poll from late 2019 found that just 31% of Americans wanted to move to daylight saving time all year around. That beat out the 28% who wanted to keep switching back and forth between daylight saving and standard time, but trailed 40% who yearned for standard time all year around.

That’s pretty close to evenly split among the three options. Keeping permanent standard time seems to have the edge. But no matter which option we adopt, the majority of people will be unhappy. We might as well then listen to the evidence, but again this is a mixed bag. Healthwise, DST itself seems to be associated with more heart attacks, while standard time has more depression. From a safety perspective, do we want more light in the morning when going to school or work, or more light in the evening when coming home? Does it stay light too late in the summer, interfering with sleep, or does it get dark too early in the Winter? Most industries have a clear favorite – they want permanent DST to increase economic activity, which takes place more in the evening.

Then there are some factors you may not have considered. A recent study finds:

“adopting permanent DST in the United States would reduce deer-vehicle collisions and likely prevent an estimated 36,550 deer deaths, 33 human deaths, 2,054 human injuries and $1.19 billion in costs each year.”

What about energy savings, the original reason for DST? DST does reduce the need for lighting in the evening (about 1%), but this may be offset by increases in heating demand. The research is mixed.

For me, I just want to get rid of changing the clocks. I would rather DST or standard time be permanent than have to change twice a year. Perhaps the best option would be to make DST permanent, but have school start an hour later. Kids need more sleep before school anyway, so that’s a win-win. People will complain, as the survey above shows, but that will happen regardless of what we do or don’t do. I don’t think we should let individual states decide – that would cause too much confusion. I have had scheduling snafus because of failure to properly adjust for differences in DST. Different time zones are bad enough. In fact, I think the world should just agree to adopt one time standard and be done with it. For local differences, simply adjust other factors (when work or school starts) rather than changing the clocks.

But it seems likely we will, by default, go for the fourth option – continue to endlessly debate the issue without doing anything about it. There’s always a chance the House will simply pass the Sunshine Protection Act and make DST permanent, but that’s a black box for now.

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