Daylight saving time to expand?

Balmy summer evenings, concerts in the park, out-of-school kids playing later than usual: Daylight saving time seems as normal a part of summer as picnics and Little League baseball games.

Aside from the extended twilight, however, there is evidence that turning the clock ahead an hour also saves energy, improves traffic safety, and helps and reduce violent crime. With this in mind, members of the US House and Senate are pushing measures that would extend daylight saving time to eight months of the year. Some are even thinking about a "double daylight saving" in which clocks would be advanced two hours in July and August.

The proposals are not without their opponents: farmers and others who start their day earlier than most Americans, those on the very western edge of the nation's time zones who see the sun relatively late anyway, and several hundred radio stations whose broadcast permits are limited to the hours after sunrise.

Still, according to federal government surveys, nearly two-thirds of the public favors expanding the daylight saving time period. Judging by recent congressional testimony, so does the Reagan administration.

If such a proposal becomes law, it will not be the first time daylight saving is expanded beyond the usual six months (May through October).

After the Arab 1973 oil embargo, Congress decreed that clocks should be advanced an hour for the full year -- saving energy by shifting daylight to cover more of the working day. Because it was still dark as late as 7 or 8 in the morning, some felt this made it dangerous for children waiting for buses or walking to school in the early morning hours.

Congress therefore returned November through February to standard time the following year, and switched back to six months of daylight savings in 1975.

Since then, the government studies have confirmed the benefits of extending daylight saving time to eight months.

"In the key impact areas of electricity usage, motor vehicle fatalities, and crime, our studies found a consistent pattern of small, positive effects from daylight saving time," US Department of Transportation official Richard Walsh reported to a recent House panel considering proposed legislation.

In studying the 1974-75 period when daylight saving was extended beyond six months, the Federal Power Commission found a national energy saving equivalent to 100,000 barrels of oil a day.

Federal researchers found a small but significant decrease in traffic fatalities during the time when it was lighter than usual in the later afternoon and early evening. There was some indication that accidents involving school-age children increased with daylight saving during January and February, but not in March and April.

Perhaps most significant, a marked reduction in incidents of violent crime was found during the extended daylight saving time period. In Washington, D.C., violent crime dropped 10-to-13 percent when the hours of daylight were shifted to later in the day.

"The high correlation between hourly patterns of violent crime and daylight is strong support for increasing the duration of daylight of saving time," says Sen. Slade Gorton (R) of Washington, who has introduced a bill to have the "spring ahead" time-change occur in March rather than Ap ril.

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