Most, though not all, Americans set their clocks forward on March 12th by one hour at 2 AM (or more likely before retiring to bed on Saturday night.) The “why” of all this “spring forward and fall back” is a question asked by more people every year, including state legislators and members of Congress. The practice is increasingly seen as utterly outdated, unnecessary, and even harmful. The pros and cons are many and are summarized here.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends DST be ended, noting it increases the risk of accidents and health complications while interrupting our natural circadian rhythm. The Academy cites research that traffic fatalities increased by six percent in the days following each year’s switch. The group recommends permanently keeping standard time. But the pro DST side consistently points to research showing that more light is good for all of us. Some studies even show DST causes a modest decrease in crime.
Where Did DST Come From?
The four most common responses to the origins of DST are these: it dates back to World War I, it saves energy, it gives farmers more daylight to work, and it’s healthier. In fact, it’s mostly a combination of responses one and two. The farm response has become a bit of an urban legend, and the healthier response appears to be downright wrong.
Americans started conserving electricity during the First World War by pushing clocks ahead to better coordinate waking hours with light bulb use. As for saving energy, there are conflicting studies on whether DST accomplishes this. But most alarming is the spike in car accidents each year. This suggests the time change has a temporary but real deadly effect, as weary Americans head to work and school in the pitch black.
Some credit Ben Franklin with first suggesting DST in 1794 in his pamphlet, “An Economical Project.” His suggestion, though, was widely regarded as a joke to get Parisians to save money on candle wax by getting them out of bed earlier in the morning.
Plans are afoot to scrap DST altogether in state legislatures and in Congress, but any state change would have to be approved by Congress. Last year, the Senate passed The Sunshine Protection Act of 2021, introduced by Florida GOP Senator Marco Rubio. The bill would have made DST our normal time, effective in early November 2023. It was sent to the House in March, but it died in that chamber. Rubio has reintroduced the bill again (S.582), and GOP Rep. Vern Buchanan of Florida has introduced a companion House bill (H.R.1279). Utah GOP Rep. Chris Stewart has introduced H.R.364, which would allow states to observe DST year round. States currently can opt to observe standard time year round, and Arizona and Hawaii already do so. As of October 2022, at least 19 states have enacted legislation or resolutions to stay on DST permanently, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).
Support for permanent DST is hardly a partisan issue. “Changing the clock twice a year is outdated and unnecessary,” said Rick Scott, Florida’s other GOP senator, after the 2022 Senate vote. Washington’s Democrat Sen. Patty Murray added, “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Americans want more sunshine and less depression — people in this country, all the way from Seattle to Miami, want the Sunshine Protection Act.”
Careful what you wish for
Americans appear to have short memories. President Richard Nixon actually signed an emergency daylight saving time bill into law in late 1973. The move was designed to combat a national energy crisis. Extending daylight hours was supposed to cut electricity demand. Public opinion of year round DST was high leading up to that bill’s passage. The close to 80% approval rate in December 1973 would fall sharply in the months after, however. Parents grew anxious about traffic accidents and the safety of their children, who were made to head to school under winter darkness. By February, The New York Times pegged approval at just 42%. In October 1974 President Gerald Ford signed a bill that returned the U.S. to standard time for four months of the year, where the U.S. currently remains.
Where we go from here is anyone’s guess. In the meantime, remember to put your clock ahead on Saturday night March 11th before bed, or Sunday morning, unless of course you live in Arizona or Hawaii.
Jeff Szymanski works in political communications for AMAC Action. He previously taught high school social studies from 2002-2016.