ISSN 2330-717X

Daylight Saving Time: Ditch The Switch And Stop The Irrational Time-Change Regime – OpEd

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I hate winter, which forces me to commute from home to work and back again in the dark. I can’t do anything about seasonal changes in daylight and darkness, but I hope Congress and state legislators will stop the annual tyranny of “springing forward” and “falling back.”

Daylight saving time (DST), which began this year at 2:00 a.m., Sunday, March 8, has been one of the many irritations of modern life since at least World War II. It became a permanent irritant during the oil crisis of the early 1970s when President Richard Nixon signed legislation mandating that clocks be moved forward one hour in the wee hours of a March Sunday as a way of saving energy.

The policy’s stated justification was that by providing an “extra” hour of sunlight at day’s end, people returning home from work wouldn’t have to turn on their lights as soon, could cook meals outside on their charcoal grills and, hence, would not consume as much electricity as they would otherwise.

DST brings risks with loss of sleep

The energy-saving argument has been debunked many times since by careful studies of energy consumption. Air conditioning is one reason DST doesn’t reduce power use significantly. Even if a family doesn’t turn on the lights until 8:30 or 9:00 p.m. during the summer, people still want to cool off after arriving home from work.

Although computers and many other digital devices now adjust to DST automatically, and will do so again when we return to standard time in November, the twice-a-year time changes continue to be a nuisance, requiring people to reset their analog watches and clocks when they’d rather be doing something (anything!) else.

The annoyance factor is not the only issue, however. The time shift, in effect, causes the human body to experience the equivalent of jet lag, without traveling to another time zone. Research shows that this disrupts our circadian rhythms—the “physical, mental and behavioral changes” that occur naturally in response to light and darkness—causing sleepiness and inattentiondecreasing productivity, and triggering spikes in heart attacks and workplace and auto accidents immediately following the time changes.

Congress should take action

Legislation has been introduced in several states, including Utah, California and Florida, to stop the craziness by adopting DST year-round. Because such policies are inconsistent with the Uniform Time Act of 1966 (15 U.S.C. §§ 260-64), congressional approval is required, however. While it’s permissible to adopt “standard” time year-round, as Arizona, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and U.S. Pacific Territories have done, extending Daylight Saving Time beyond the current eight months requires an act of Congress.

Given both the nuisance factor and the significant costs imposed on all of us by being forced to change our clocks twice a year, I can’t understand why Congress hasn’t done away with the irrational time-change regime.

I could live quite satisfactorily with standard time 12 months of the year. Depending on the season and the latitude at which one lives and works, the number of hours of sunlight per day is fixed. That number cannot be changed by governmental decree.

What can be changed is the policy that requires springing forward and falling back—losing an hour of sleep in March to “save” an hour of sunlight for the next eight months, only to switch back again when the days shorten in autumn.

I’d like to see my fellow citizens reenact the last scene of the movie “Frankenstein”, carrying torches and pitchforks around the halls of Congress demanding that we be allowed to set our watches and clocks once and for all on DST or standard time, ending the oppression of government timekeeping.

William F. Shughart II

William F. Shughart II

William F. Shughart II is Research Director and Senior Fellow at The Independent Institute, the J. Fish Smith Professor in Public Choice in the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business at Utah State University, and past President of the Southern Economic Association. A former economist at the Federal Trade Commission, Professor Shughart received his Ph.D. in economics from Texas A & M University, and he has taught at George Mason University, Clemson University, University of Mississippi, and the University of Arizona.

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