Why Do We Have Daylight Savings Time?

History is riddled with things that seemed like a good idea at the time but turn out to be less than brilliant as time passes. For example, that time you let your friend cut your hair, going on vacation with your in-laws, texting or calling an ex after a few drinks, prohibition, getting involved in Vietnam or Iraq, and of course Daylight Saving Time (DST) — one of those few things that most every country in the world thought was a good idea at the time. Also often referred to as Daylight Savings Time.

Image by Gabe Raggio from Pixabay

Daylight Saving Time begins in the United States on the second Sunday in March and ends on the first Sunday in November. One hour that seems like it would not make that much of a difference in our lives. After all, it is only one hour, the same as the amount of time we watch a single television show, the time spent watching half a movie (or one-third of a movie if it is made by Marvel), or the average amount of time we spend sitting in our cars commuting back and forth from work each day.

In the beginning of November, we “fall back” and move our clocks backward from Daylight Saving Time to Standard Time (ST) in the United States. The end of Daylight Saving Time varies from country to country such as the UK where it happens approximately a week earlier than in does in the US. Currently 70 countries participate in Daylight Saving Time, including the US and several countries in South America (quite a few countries there do NOT use DST), the countries in the European Union, Japan, and China.

Have you ever wondered where this twice-yearly ritual of torture that we inflict on ourselves began that messes with our internal clocks, this ritual that doesn’t seem to have much of a purpose anymore? And why we still participate in the changing of the clocks in the spring and fall?

Origins

Most people are under a big misgiving as to the history of Daylight Saving Time. We are taught as children that Daylight Saving Time began as a method of providing farmers more natural light — however, farmers didn’t come into the equation until much later. One of the first references is by Benjamin Franklin, who published a letter in the Journal of Paris suggesting the idea as a way to save on candles and oil lamps, but never caught on. Some debate how serious he was when he proposed this as the article was written with a tongue in cheek tone. But I am of the opinion that there was a level of seriousness in his proposal as Franklin was an intelligent man looking for methods of improving life for those in his era.

The first time we see Daylight Saving Time being used by multiple countries was during World War I. The military leaders wanted to reduce lighting demands and save coal, or depending on your source of information, military leaders wanted to start the fighting as early as possible and continue the war as late into the evening as possible. It is easier to hit the enemy soldier if you can see them. In fact, farmers have not necessarily been fans of the new time schedule, as per Almanac.com. Why wasn’t DST repealed right after the war if it was implemented for that reason? There actually were many attempts to do away with DST, but the intermission between the first world war and the second was not all that long. During World War II Franklin Roosevelt reinstated DST in the United States, also known as “War Time”, for the same reason as during the first world war. Most other countries did the same for the same reason.

One of the problems of Roosevelt’s “War Time” in the United States was a lack of standardization. Some areas followed DST and some didn’t. People were confused and needed the government to step in. Instead of repealing DST altogether, the government created the Uniform Time Act in 1966, beginning the practice that DST begins on the last Sunday of April and ends on the last Sunday of October. Later DST was changed to the first Sunday of April in the 1980s, and most recently in 2005 to the second Sunday in March, and first Sunday in November. States can choose not to participate, with Arizona and Hawaii selecting to opt out.

Other countries throughout the world have similar inconsistent implementations of DST as law. For example, France used the system up until 1945, then ending it at the end of the war they re-implemented it in 1975. They have also changed the day they switch clocks, sometimes in alignment with the UK and other times in alignment with Germany.

And plus, the day after Daylight Saving Time, you’re all messed up. One time, my mom brought in my breakfast an hour late like an idiot, so I just threw it on the floor and I said, “Mom, if I wanted to eat this, I would’ve eaten it an hour ago.” But it threw off my whole bathroom schedule and I ended up having to poop in a Sunoco bathroom.

— Jonah Ryan (Veep)

Do We Still Need Daylight Saving Time?

Now that we no longer need extra daylight to kill one another thanks to night vision goggles, smart bombs, drones, and other pieces of modern war technology, why haven’t we repealed it? This goes back to Richard Nixon. In 1974, then-President Nixon signed the Daylight Saving Time Energy Act, leading to the current reason we use to justify DST — energy savings. According to an article by Michael Douma, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) did a study in 1975 showing we save in electricity “about one percent each day, because less electricity is used for lighting and appliances.” Due to the extra hour, many businesses such as convenience stores and golf courses benefit. Yet for every study that shows the benefit of DST an alternative study can be found that shows there are no real benefits. This is generally attributed to the fact that most jobs are no longer standard 8:00 to 5:00 varying from job to job, so that many people who used to need the extra light in the morning, now need it in the evening and visa-versa.

Another downside of DST is safety; again, Michael Douma reports there is “evidence that the severity of auto accidents increases and work productivity decreases as people adjust to the time change.” As anyone who is alive has experienced, changing our clocks even by one hour disrupts our sleep pattern. With a disrupted sleep pattern, we are less productive. Not only are we less productive, we are more prone to error. As per CBS News “A 2009 study examined data on over 500,000 mining injuries from 1983 to 2006 and found a 5.7 percent increase on the Monday following the time change. What’s more, the injuries were more severe, leading to a 68 percent increase in the number of days of work missed.”

Image by Milo Denison from RedBubble

In Summary

At one point in time in world history there was a need for Daylight Saving Time. Not because the farmers required an extra hour during the changing of the seasons, but because the military wanted it and the government adopted it without proper research. Since then, we have incorrectly used the need for energy savings and benefits to businesses as justification. Yet, depending on which study is being referenced, it could be argued that DST actually provides more negatives than benefits.

There is a push in many countries, including the United States, to end the changing of the clocks. In fact, many South American countries have ended the practice, such as Argentina and Brazil. The EU has recently approved plans to end seasonal daylight saving changes across the EU by 2021. Some US states have passed legislation to end the practice of changing clocks twice a year and we can only hope that the national government in the United States will follow soon.

Milo Denison is a former office monkey, a freelance writer, and his most recent book “How to Manage Your Manager” is out now www.milodenison.com/books

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