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Point: Make Standard Time Permanent

For a different point of view see: Counterpoint: Advantages Abound with Clock-Change System


Almost everyone hates springing forward and falling back every year. Moving clocks ahead one hour in March only to return them to their previous settings in November wastes time — literally.

No adjustments to clocks change the length of the day, which is determined by latitude (distance from the equator) and season of the year. Daylight Saving Time, which kicks in this year at 2 a.m. March 12, simply shifts an hour of sunshine from the beginning of the day to its end. “Saving” an hour of sunlight requires losing an hour of sleep in the spring, reclaimed in the fall when Standard Time — observed for a mere four months — resumes.

Daylight Saving Time has been one of the many irritations of modern life since at least World War II. It became a permanent irritant during the oil crisis of the early 1970s when President Richard Nixon signed legislation mandating that clocks be moved forward one hour on an early March Sunday morning to save energy.

The policy’s stated justification was that by providing an “extra” hour of sunlight at day’s end, people returning home from work wouldn’t have to turn on their lights as soon and, hence, consume less electricity than they would otherwise.

The energy-saving argument has been debunked many times since then by careful studies of energy consumption. One of the reasons it doesn’t pan out is because electricity provides comfort as well as lighting. Even if a family doesn’t turn on the lights until 8:30 or 9 p.m. during the summer, people still want to cool off after returning home from work — and for most Americans, a dip in the backyard pool isn’t an option. With millions now working from home, the energy-saving rationale makes even less sense.

Although computers, cell phones and many other digital devices adjust to the time changes automatically, most analog watches and clocks still must be reset manually. That’s an inconvenience, but additional costs are incurred as well.

First, changing time messes up our internal body clocks — in effect, causing people to experience the equivalent of jet lag without traveling to another time zone. Research shows that the shock to our circadian rhythms — the “physical, mental and behavioral changes” that occur naturally in response to light and darkness — causes sleepiness and inattention, which contribute to lower productivity on the job and spikes in heart attacksworkplace injuries, and auto accidents in the days immediately after the time changes.

Implicit costs also are incurred whenever “clock time” diverges from “sun time.” According to my back-of-the-envelope calculation, we lose nearly $1.7 billion of valuable time to the annual spring-forward, fall-back exercise. The loss is based on what economists call “opportunity costs”: the value of time that could be better spent on more productive (or enjoyable!) activities.

Economists typically base opportunity cost estimates on individual wage rates. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated average hourly earnings in January 2023 at about $33. Assuming it takes everyone about 10 minutes (0.16 of an hour) to change their clocks and watches, the opportunity cost amounts to about $5.28 per person. Just counting the 158 million Americans who currently hold some job, the one-time opportunity cost for the country is more than $834 million each time we change our clocks, or just under $1.7 billion a year.

The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that 18 states already have approved legislation making Daylight Saving Time the year-round norm. Several other states are considering such legislation.

But the states can’t move forward because permanent Daylight Saving Time is inconsistent with the Uniform Time Act of 1966. While it’s permissible to adopt Standard Time year-round, as Arizona, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and U.S. Pacific Territories have done, extending Daylight Saving Time beyond the current eight months requires an act of Congress.

Given both the nuisance factor and the significant costs imposed on us by being forced to change our clocks twice a year, it’s hard to understand why Congress hasn’t done away with the irrational time-change regime.

The logical solution, therefore, is year-round Standard Time, which individual states remain free to adopt on their own.

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Counterpoint: Advantages Abound With Clock-Change System

For another point of view see: Point: Make Standard Time Permanent

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.

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