Daylight saving time. It’s something not many people think about, except when it gifts them an extra hour of blessed sleep in the fall or ruins one of their Sundays in the spring. Daylight saving is one of those odd practices that many people don’t understand or particularly care about. So why is daylight saving time in place? And do the benefits conferred, if any, outweigh the potential risks that occur as a result?
The origin of daylight saving time (DST) lies in World War I. In the spring of 1916, clocks were advanced one hour in an effort to conserve fuel needed to produce electrical power. This lasted until October of that year, and other countries such as Belgium, Denmark and France quickly followed suit. The United States did not start daylight saving time until 1918, and it lasted into 1919. Because people started their days earlier back then, this law was immensely unpopular. Therefore, it was primarily shelved until it was reenacted in World War II by President Roosevelt. After the end of the war daylight saving was inconsistently applied around the country, which troubled the broadcast and transportation industries. Because of confusion, Congress passed the Uniform Time Act in 1966. This essentially created DST as we know it today, although there have been some changes over time.
The primary benefit to Daylight Savings Time is thought to be conserving energy. However, there is much debate as to how much of an effect DST has on this. The first study on daylight saving time occurred during the oil crisis in the 1970s, after President Nixon expanded DST to combat the situation. The Department of Transportation found that national electricity was approximately one percent lower compared to standard time. This drop was primarily attributed to a reduction in the demand for household lighting. However, little new research on daylight saving was done until recently.
In 2006, Indiana instituted statewide daylight savings for the first time. Researchers took the opportunity to examine electrical usage and billing, unexpectedly finding that there was a one percent rise in residential electricity use. To put this into perspective, it cost the state about nine million dollars. It was suggested that this increase was due to DST increasing the demand for cooling on summer evenings and heating in the mornings of spring and fall. About a year later the U.S Department of Energy looked at the effect of DST on national energy consumption by studying 67 electric utilities across the country. They found that the four week extension of daylight time saved enough energy to power 100,000 household for a year, or about 0.5 percent of the nation’s electricity per day.
Overall, there appear to be mixed results regarding energy consumption during daylight savings. Part of this is likely due to climate differences between states. Those with warmer climates, such as Florida or Texas, will have a greater need for air conditioning. As a result, daylight saving could save energy in the northern states and actually have negative impacts in the southern states.
There are other factors to be considered. Many studies have indicated that DST lowers car accidents because more people are able to drive home in sunlight. With one study estimating a drop in crashes between six and 10 percent. The tourist industry benefits greatly from daylight savings, because an extra hour of sunlight generally encourages people to stay out later and shop and attend events more. An extra hour of sunlight in the morning, in contrast, wouldn’t matter because people on vacation probably aren’t waking up at six o’clock.
There are concerns as well. Some studies show that the week after daylight saving time in the spring there is an increase in crashes because of the change in sleep. Darker evenings may be less of a problem, but this results in mornings being darker and worries about children attending school as well as early morning commuter traveling in low light levels. Interestingly, a study in Sweden found that heart attacks rose five percent the week after daylight saving. It was suggested in the New England Journal of Medicine that this was due to disruption of sleep patterns and biological rhythms.
There are a lot of trade-offs when it comes to DST. More studies should be done to study its effects, but if no net positive can be found than it is probably best to end it the confusing practice.
Jacob Kowalski is a staff columnist for The Daily Campus opinion section. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.