In the coming weeks, leaves will fall, plants will shrivel, temperatures will sink and Americans will experience growing dread over the unpleasant experience that awaits us in November. No, it's not the presidential election; rather, it's the end of daylight saving time.
Early on the day after Halloween, the nation will shift to what is inaccurately known as standard time, though it applies for only about four months of the year. The vast majority of us will have to reset clocks, adjust sleep times, endure mild symptoms of jet lag and get used to the sudden early onset of darkness. Then, in March, we will have to switch back in another round of disruption and aggravation.
It doesn't have to be this way. If there is anything we've learned from this routine, it's that we can structure and manipulate time to suit our needs. The clock, after all, is a human invention.
Within the U.S., daylight saving time has never won universal assent. Hawaii and Arizona don't use it, though it does apply on that chunk of Arizona reserved for the Navajo Nation. Indiana used to be a bizarre hodge-podge seemingly designed to drive residents and visitors to the brink of madness.
In 2006, The Associated Press reported that the state had "77 counties observing Eastern time but not changing clocks; five on Eastern time unofficially observing daylight saving time; and 10 on Central time that observed daylight saving time." There were a lot of missed appointments, late arrivals and panic attacks.
Florida's U.S. senators, Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, think the regular switchovers are not worth the trouble. They've introduced a bill, the Sunshine Protection Act, to make daylight saving time permanent everywhere year-round. The Florida legislature is one of a dozen that have passed legislation to use it year-round, but federal law forbids any state from doing so.
Their measure would not literally protect sunshine, which will be present for the same interval every 24 hours regardless of what your clock says. Nor would it "save" daylight; it would merely shift it, in effect, from one time of day to another.
Daylight saving time was made year-round in 1974, during the energy crisis, to reduce gasoline consumption, which it apparently did. But the experiment was scrapped because it appeared to increase the number of kids being hit by cars on their way to school.
The mass of evidence, however, indicates that we'd be better off if we extended daylight saving time to 12 months. In 2007, law professors Steve Calandrillo of the University of Washington and Dustin Buehler of the University of Arkansas made a comprehensive study of the data and concluded the change would be a net boon.
Among the benefits they cite are:
- Fewer traffic fatalities involving either pedestrians or vehicle occupants.
- Less energy use thanks to a decline in peak electricity demand.
- Reduced crime.
- Contrary to myth, no change in the number of schoolchildren killed on their way to school. If morning darkness is perceived to pose a danger to children in some places, schools could push back their start times an hour.
As Calandrillo told me by email, "99% of the population is awake in the early evening at sunset and would benefit from an extra hour of sunlight then. On the contrary, only approximately half of the population is awake at sunrise (sometimes higher, sometimes lower, depending on the time of year), so adding an extra hour of sun in the early morning only benefits half the population."
The COVID-19 pandemic, he said, has only magnified the appeal of perpetual daylight saving time. A lot of people who now work remotely can sleep later than they did when they were commuting. Children who attend virtual classes don't have to stand on dark streets waiting for buses.
Even if permanent daylight saving time merely shifted crime and car wrecks from one time of day to another, it would at least eliminate the low-level turmoil that sweeps the country twice each year. We do our bodies no favors by making them spring forward and fall back. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine issued a statement last month recommending doing away with this hybrid system of keeping time.
On Nov. 1, we are scheduled to repeat an exasperating ritual that serves no good purpose. We should make it the last time.
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