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David Prerau is an internationally known expert on Daylight Saving Time and the author of “Seize the Daylight: The Curious and Contentious Story of Daylight Saving Time.” He has been a consultant for the U.S. Congress and the British Parliament. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.
Today’s Daylight Saving Time system — spring-to-fall DST followed by winter Standard Time — is an excellent compromise, providing DST’s many advantages the majority of the year and yet avoiding winter Standard Time’s difficulties during the dark, cold months.
One proposed alternative is year-round Standard Time. This would cut short 240 beautiful spring, summer and autumn evenings and eliminate eight months of Daylight Time’s benefits.
Numerous studies show that spring-to-fall DST increases public health and the quality of life by getting people outdoors more, reduces crimes like mugging, reduces energy usage and minimizes energy peaks. And note that while there may be some effect on traffic accidents the first day or so after the DST time change, all studies show that traffic accidents and fatalities reduce significantly over the 240 days of DST.
Year-round Standard Time would make many spring and summer sunrises extremely early, while most people are asleep: New York, Chicago and Las Vegas sunrises before 4:30 a.m.; Los Angeles, Washington and Cleveland sunrises before 5 a.m. We would sleep through morning sunshine for many months when that daylight could be better used later in the day.
Our current DST system relocates an hour of otherwise wasted sunshine to a much more useful hour at the end of the day.
Since 1966, when a new federal law was passed, every one of the 50 states could choose year-round Standard Time at any time without any further federal approval. Yet now, after more than 50 years, only two states opt to do that. And those states have unique reasons: Hawaii is the closest state to the equator, and thus daylight hours vary little over the year, and DST’s advantages are smaller. Arizona’s most populous areas have extreme summer heat, so instead of additional summer daylight, Arizonans await sunset to go outdoors.
The other major alternative to the current DST system is year-round Daylight Time. This isn’t a new idea — Americans have tried this option across the entire country and firmly rejected it.
During a 1974 national energy crisis, the federal government installed nationwide year-round DST for two years. But winter DST quickly lost support. People disliked traveling to work on very dark winter mornings. They especially detested sending their children to school on very dark mornings — waiting for buses on dark rural roads or walking on dark city streets. Congress followed the national sentiment and eliminated year-round DST after one year — although the law would have automatically expired the following year.
Already-late winter sunrises are one hour later under year-round Daylight Time — the sun would rise in New York, Denver and Chicago at about 8:30 a.m.; sunrises in Indianapolis, Detroit and Seattle would be about 9 a.m.; and, in some U.S. areas, sunrises would be 9:30 a.m. or later.
Large numbers of people would travel to work or school in total darkness. And under winter DST, mornings are also colder — especially unpleasant in more frigid areas. Many would leave home before sunrise when it is coldest.
Year-round Standard Time and year-round DST would both eliminate DST’s clock changes. Many quickly adjust to the change, while others find it troublesome, with reports of short-term adverse effects. But the clock change effects last just one or a few days, while summer DST’s benefits last 240 days and winter Standard Time’s benefits last 120 days.
Moving the clock forward one hour is like traveling one time zone to the east (from Chicago to New York, London to Paris, or Beijing to Tokyo), which many do worldwide daily. And numerous travelers cross multiple time zones.
Rather than changing our time system, other alternatives exist to minimize any negative clock change effects. One option: several days before a DST clock change, a campaign of public service announcements could remind people that the clock change is coming, so try to get more sleep and to get to sleep a little earlier on the days near the clock change.
Instead of moving to either year-round Standard Time or year-round Daylight Time, each bringing many negatives, the current very sensible compromise DST system brings great advantages throughout the year, eliminates the problems that would be caused by either of the other two systems and results in the best of both.