USA First Look

Is time running out on Daylight Saving?

At least 21 state legislatures have bills that call for eliminating or changing DST. But proponents continue to point out that Americans tend to go outside more during Daylight Saving Time. 

Dave LeMote wipes down a post clock at Electric Time Company, Inc. in Medfield, Mass., March 7, 2014.
Elise Amendola/AP | Caption

In the buildup to Daylight Saving Time each March, countless lawmakers, columnists, and early-birds decry the practice. They mention its empty promise of savings on energy costs and its impact on productivity and traffic accidents and fatalities.

This year was no different, as 21 state legislatures have taken up the debate to eliminate or change spring forward, and a Google search the morning after March 12 yielded dozens, if not hundreds, of columns and editorials.

And yet, springing forward has stood the test of time since it became common practice in the United States in World War II, and Congress adopted it in 1966. Proponents of Daylight Saving Time continue to point to the benefits of an extra hour of sunlight, as more Americans spend more time outside. But one semi-retired dot-com millionaire devoted to ending time changes believes momentum is finally turning against the practice. 

"I think we've reached the tipping point" for ending the time changes, Scott Yates told the Detroit Free Press. Mr. Yates operates the website sco.tt/time, which lists studies showing the fallacies and pitfalls of the fall-and-spring time changes.

Daylight Saving Time, which began at 2 a.m. on Sunday, pushes sunset later into the evening.

The idea behind it is simple. With more daylight in the evening, we would presumably spend less time with the lights on in our homes, saving on electricity. And we would be less likely to sleep through the daylight hours in the morning, hence daylight saving.

The practice became commonplace in the United States starting in World War II, with Congress passing the Uniform Time Act of 1966. It is optional for states to observe Daylight Saving Time (the same isn’t true for Standard Time). But only Arizona and Hawaii do not observe it.

Proponents of Daylight Saving Time continue to point to the benefits of an extra hour of sunlight. 

“Let’s just not ignore the fact that people are happy when it’s light out longer,” Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, told The Mercury News. “It just seems like a terrible idea to reduce the number of daylight hours we can enjoy. Why would the dead hand of the government come in and tell us there should be more darkness?”

Yet, at least 21 state legislatures this year have bills that would #locktheclock one way or another, according to the blog Time Zone Report. They are: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

State legislatures have attempted to eliminate Daylight Saving Time in the past, albeit unsuccessfully. But a Michigan lawmaker believes he has a novel idea to rid his state of the practice. Rather than writing a bill to eliminate Daylight Saving Time, Republican state Rep. Pete Lucido wants the state to keep it all the time.

“Anybody who wants to continue this is cuckoo,” Mr. Lucido told the Detroit Free Press. "It's not about the actual time. It's about changing that hour. That's what causes all the trouble.”

Critics often point to the empty promise of Daylight Saving Time leading to energy savings. That was the rationale behind German Emperor Kaiser Wilhelm II first instituting the clock-changing practice during World War I. A prominent study backed by the US Department of Energy on energy savings here seemed to confirm that logic. But an influential study out of Indiana in 2011 found that when the state instituted daylight saving in 2006, it actually increased electricity demand by about 1 percent, reported The Christian Science Monitor

In 2015, Vox then concluded the presumed electricity conservation is unclear or nonexistent:

Despite the fact that daylight saving time was introduced to save fuel, there isn't strong evidence that the current system actually reduces energy use — or that making it year-round would do so, either. Studies that evaluate the energy impact of DST are mixed. It seems to reduce lighting use (and thus electricity consumption) slightly but may increase heating and AC use, as well as gas consumption. It's probably fair to say that energy-wise, it's a wash. 

Compounded with other studies that have found spring forward leads to more traffic deaths, more workplace accidents, and other negatives effects, the pressure against Daylight Saving Time seems to be piling up. 

But others have found spring forward does appear to benefit Americans and the gasoline industry that powers their cars.

Americans really do leave their homes when there is more sunlight at the end of the day,” Michael Downing, a lecturer at Tufts University and the author of “Spring Forward: The Annual Madness of Daylight Saving Time,” told The New York Times.

“We go to the parks, and we go to the mall, but we don’t walk there,” he said. “Daylight saving increases gasoline consumption.”

Give us your feedback, please.

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.