Daylight saving time: why we ‘spring forward’ earlier this year

Daylight saving time starts on the second Sunday of March and has since 2007. The goal of moving daylight saving time forward is partly to save energy, but that hasn't happened. 

Tourneau of New York begins its "wind back" for daylight saving time.

This Sunday people in most states will switch ahead their clocks and lose an hour as daylight saving time begins in the US. 

If this season’s “spring forward” seems a bit earlier than usual, that’s because it is – but only by a few days, at least compared with recent years. (Last year, we switched our clocks ahead on March 13, and in 2010 it was March 14, for instance.) It was in 2007, however, when the beginning of daylight saving time jumped ahead by two full weeks.

That was due to the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which extended the entire period of daylight saving time by four weeks from the second Sunday in March to the first Sunday in November. Before 2007, daylight saving time began at 2 a.m. on the first Sunday in April and ended at 2 a.m. on the last Sunday the following October.

So why did the US government see fit to force us from our beds in ever-greater darkness, well before the first day of spring?

The primary rationale for the legislation, analogous to the chief reason for implementing daylight saving time during World War I, was to promote energy conservation, according to proponents of the bill.

The act was also a bit of an experiment.

One provision in the legislation required the US Department of Energy to study the financial impact of the 2007 daylight saving time extension. The results of the study, released a year later, showed a nationwide electricity savings of 0.03 percent.

Another October 2008 study conducted by the University of California at Santa Barbara found surprisingly little evidence that the adoption of daylight saving time in Indiana actually saved energy. Contrary to the policy’s intent, they found electricity consumption actually increased, albeit slightly, during this time period.

Authors of the study concluded, “The longstanding rationale for DST is questionable, and if anything, the policy seems to have the opposite of its intended effect. Nevertheless, there are other arguments made in favor of DST. These range from increased opportunities for leisure, enhanced public health and safety, and economic growth.”

Having daylight during the evening commute is considered safer, while the additional hour of daylight is thought to allow some industries to work later. 

Not all states observe daylight saving time. Hawaii, most of Arizona, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and American Samoa do not participate. Even more states, including Alaska, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Michigan and Nevada either don’t observe daylight saving time in some areas, or lawmakers have attempted in recent years to abolish the practice of daylight saving time in their state.

Worldwide, about 75 countries and territories include areas that observe daylight saving time. The European Union, for instance, has used European Summer Time, which runs from the last Sunday in March through the last Sunday in October.

In the Southern Hemisphere, where summer comes in December, daylight saving time is observed from October through March. Many tropical or countries near the equator, however, don’t observe daylight saving time since the daylight hours remain relatively constant throughout the year.

For now, daylight saving time in the US and its earlier schedule are here to stay, at least for those in participating areas. So we suggest you savor your long Monday afternoon.

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