Where did Daylight Saving Time come from? And why do we still ‘fall back’?
Every year, at the witching hour of a Sunday in March, a whole hour disappears from the clock. Then, in early November, the hour reappears. While it may seem like witchcraft or magic, it isn’t. It’s just Daylight Saving Time.
Daylight Saving Time begins the second Monday of March and ends the first Sunday in November. This year, we will fall back one hour when Daylight Saving Time ends and we return to Standard Time at 2 a.m. on Sunday, November 1st, 2020.
Daylight Saving Time (or DST) was started in order to make the long sunlight hours of the summer more useful. When we “spring forward” an hour in March, we move an hour of sunshine from the morning down to the evening. On the first Sunday in November every year, we “fall back” and turn our clocks back to Standard Time.
Daylight Saving Time has a long history, surrounded by myth. For instance, you’ve probably heard that Daylight Saving Time was created to help farmers when in reality, it was started to decrease energy costs as part of the war effort.
Many countries around the world spring forward and fall back each year, but Daylight Saving Time has just as many haters as fans, even from economists and scientists. Personally, I appreciate the extra hour of sleep, but many people wonder why Daylight Saving Time is so important and why we still use it today.
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When Did Daylight Saving Time Start?
Daylight Saving Time was first started as a wartime tactic on March 31, 1918. The idea was that getting civilians to wake up with the sun would save fuel for the troops. Farmers hated it. They believed the time change would disturb when they went to sell their goods at market.
Benjamin Franklin was the first to suggest the idea of Daylight Saving Time, in an essay he wrote in 1784, and William Willett later proposed the idea to British Parliament in 1907. Daylight Saving Time didn’t catch on in the United States until 1966.
In the US, Daylight Saving Time was finally put in place during World War I and World War II to save energy for war production by taking advantage of the longer daylight hours.
Following World War II, states and cities began deciding for themselves whether they wanted to observe Daylight Saving Time and when to do it. Without standardized DST nationwide, some towns were an hour behind others even though they were only a few miles apart.
To clear up all the confusion, the Uniform Time Act was passed by Congress in 1966, which made the length of Daylight Saving Time the same for the whole country.
Does Everyone Fall Back?
Daylight Saving Time is most useful for people living farther away from the equator. That’s because daylight hours are a lot longer there in the summer than in the winter. In places that are closer to the equator, daytime and nighttime are almost equal to each other throughout the whole year.
There are only a few places in the US, including parts of Arizona, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and American Samoa, that don’t follow Daylight Saving Time.
Today, there are about 70 countries that observe Daylight Saving Time, but not all on the same schedule as the United States. Figuring out who follows Daylight Saving Time and when sounds a lot like a complicated word problem you’d see on a math exam.
- In Europe, Daylight Saving Time starts on the last Sunday in March and ends the first Sunday in October.
- In the southern hemisphere where summer starts in December, Daylight Saving Time goes from December to March.
- Kyrgyzstan and Iceland use Daylight Saving Time all year, but countries on the equator don’t use Daylight Saving Time at all.
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Pros for why the US should continue to follow DST
Those who support Daylight Saving Time say that extended daylight hours not only reduce crime and car accidents but also improve energy conservation because people don’t need to use as much energy to light their businesses and homes.
On the other hand, some studies suggest that the energy saved during Daylight Saving Time gets offset by increased energy consumption levels in the fall and winter months.
Either way, the U.S. Department of Transportation currently argues that:
- DST saves energy. During Daylight Saving Time in March, the sun sets one hour later, so turning the clocks forward cuts back on energy use for household lighting and appliances.
- People usually spend more time outside in the evenings during Daylight Saving Time in spring, and in summer, people tend to wake up after the sun comes up, so they use less power in their homes.
- Daylight Saving Time prevents traffic accidents and saves lives because more people run errands and commute for school and work during daylight hours.
- More people are out and about in the daylight hours instead of at night. More crime occurs at night, so Daylight Saving Time helps prevent crimes.
Cons for why the US should stop falling back
Of course, there’s always more than one side to anything, and Daylight Saving Time is no different.
Because of Daylight Saving Time, “The majority of the population has drastically decreased productivity, decreased quality of life, increasing susceptibility to illness, and is just plain tired,” says Till Roenneberg, a chronobiologist at Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich.
According to Petition2Congress, a website that delivers petitions to government officials, more than 124,000 “cancel Daylight Saving Time” letters have been sent to the United States Congress in complaint against Daylight Saving Time.
In fact, a study from the University of Colorado, Boulder found that Daylight Saving Time may even be responsible for an increase in the rate of car accidents.
Some studies that were presented at a conference for the American Academy of Neurology suggest that Daylight Saving Time may be linked to brain-damaging blood clots.
Author Dr. Jori Ruuskanen, neurologist at the University of Turku in Finland writes, “Previous studies have shown that disruptions in a person’s circadian rhythm, also called an internal body clock, increase the risk of ischemic stroke, so we wanted to find out if daylight saving time was putting people at risk.”
Contrary to the US Department of Energy’s conclusions, a study published by The National Bureau of Economic Research showed that when the state of Indiana made the switch to Daylight Saving Time in 2006, they saw an increase in energy use due to costs of air conditioning at the time.
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When Will Daylight Saving Time End?
Many people are very strongly against springing forward and falling back each year. Some cities and states are seeing moves toward legislation to stop switching between Daylight Saving Time and Standard Time altogether.
In Massachusetts last year, a commission discussed changing the state’s time zone and recommended keeping Daylight Saving Time all year, as long as most Northeast states wanted to as well.
Florida Governor Rick Scott signed a bill in 2018 that was passed by the Florida Legislature voting to keep Daylight Saving Time throughout the year.
However, Florida will have to fall back to Standard Time with the rest of us this weekend; only Congress can approve staying on Daylight Saving Time year-round, and that hasn’t happened yet for Florida.
Next month, citizens of sunny California will vote on Proposition 7, which would give their Legislature the all-clear to vote on keeping Daylight Saving Time throughout the year.
Fortunately, for those of us who look forward to the extra hour in bed every year, there’s only a few more sleeps left to go before we fall back to Standard Time again.
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