If you’re like me, you are probably looking forward to “falling back” for Daylight Saving this coming weekend just for the extra hour of sleep; what could be better?! But, do you know why we “spring forward” and “fall back” every year?
At 2 a.m. on Sunday, November 6, you’ll need to set back your clocks by one hour for Daylight Saving Time. While there are varying theories as to why it’s useful, and some entertaining stories proving its value, one seemingly universal agreement about Daylight Saving is that it can be confusing. So, let’s start with the basics.
Time used to be set locally by major cities and regions based on the astronomical conditions. However, this was changed when railroads needed to have standardized times in order to coordinate their schedules. Railroads through the United States and Canada adopted a standard time in 1883, but the public did not entirely adopt it until it was established into law by the Standard Time Act of 1918.
Benjamin Franklin is among the first who pointed out a need to “save” daylight. While staying in Paris, Franklin noticed that the sun rose at 6 a.m. though few people were awake. He concluded that the French were burning 127 million candles unnecessarily each year because their clocks and life-schedules were not aligned with the sun.
The point of Daylight Saving is to take advantage of the greatest amount of sunlight each day. Sunlight is not being “saved,” but clocks are being shifted to match the sun. Countries closer to the equator do not need to observe Daylight Saving because the numbers of hours of light compared to dark are much closer. The difference between the two increases with the distance from the equator.
Daylight Saving Time was not regularly kept from its initial introduction to the U.S. in 1918. It was used during World War 1 to save money and again in World War 2 for similar reasons. Though it started out generally unpopular, it began to increase in popularity until most Americans were using it by 1966. The only problem was that there was no established time for Daylight Saving and it varied from region to region.
When the U.S. Department of Transportation was created in 1966, it was given the responsibility for standardized time. The Uniform Time Act issued in the same year is the law that established a uniform time and date for Daylight Saving Time. The law does not require everyone to follow Daylight Saving Time; it merely states that all who choose to follow it must follow it uniformly. Arizona, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands have all opted to not follow Daylight Saving Time and therefore never deviate from the standard time.
Here are three reasons described by nationalatlas.gov explaining why Daylight Saving is useful:
1. Daylight Saving Time saves energy. Based on consumption figures for 1974 and 1975, The Department of Transportation says observing Daylight Saving Time in March and April saved the equivalent in energy of 10,000 barrels of oil each day — a total of 600,000 barrels in each of those two years. California Energy Commission studies confirm a saving of about one percent per day.
2. Daylight Saving Time saves lives and prevents traffic injuries. The earlier Daylight Saving Time allowed more people to travel home from work and school in daylight, which is much safer than darkness. And except for the months of November through February, Daylight Saving Time does not increase the morning hazard for those going to school and work.
3. Daylight Saving Time prevents crime. Because people get home from work and school and complete more errands and chores in daylight, Daylight Saving Time also seems to reduce people’s exposure to various crimes, which are more common in darkness than in light.
Here are some entertaining stories about confusion around Daylight Saving Time given by WebExhibits:
- A man, born just after 12:00 a.m. DST, circumvented the Vietnam War draft by using a daylight saving time loophole. When drafted, he argued that standard time, not DST, was the official time for recording births in his state of Delaware in the year of his birth. Thus, under official standard time he was actually born on the previous day–and that day had a much higher draft lottery number, allowing him to avoid the draft.
- In September 1999, the West Bank was on Daylight Saving Time while Israel had just switched back to standard time. West Bank terrorists prepared time bombs and smuggled them to their Israeli counterparts, who misunderstood the time on the bombs. As the bombs were being planted, they exploded–one hour too early–killing three terrorists instead of the intended victims–two busloads of people.
- Through 2006, Daylight Saving Time in the U.S. ended a few days before Halloween (October 31). Children’s pedestrian deaths are four times higher on Halloween than on any other night of the year. A new law to extend DST to the first Sunday in November took effect in 2007, with the purpose of providing trick-or-treaters more light and therefore more safety from traffic accidents. For decades, candy manufacturers lobbied for a Daylight Saving Time extension to Halloween, as many of the young trick-or-treaters gathering candy are not allowed out after dark, and thus an added hour of light means a big holiday treat for the candy industry. Anecdotally, the 2007 switch may not have had much effect, as it appeared that children simply waited until dark to go trick-or-treating.
- Following the 1973 Arab Oil Embargo, Congress put most of the nation on extended Daylight Saving Time for two years in hopes of saving additional energy. This experiment worked, but Congress did not continue the experiment in 1975 because of opposition — mostly from the farming states.
- Patrons of bars that stay open past 2:00 a.m. lose one hour of drinking time on the day when Daylight Saving Time springs forward one hour. This has led to annual problems in numerous locations, and sometimes even to riots. For example, at a “time disturbance” in Athens, Ohio, site of Ohio University, over 1,000 students and other late night partiers chanted “Freedom,” as they threw liquor bottles at the police attempting to control the riot.
- AM radio signals propagate much further at night than during the day. During daytime, more stations in neighboring areas can broadcast on the same frequency without interfering with each other. Because of this situation, there are hundreds of stations licensed to operate only in the daytime. Daylight Saving Time can affect the bottom line of these daytime-only radio stations: during parts of the year it can cause the stations to lose their most profitable time of day–the morning drive time. The gain of an hour of daylight – and thus broadcast time – in the evening does not fully compensate for the morning loss.
- Through 2006, the Daylight Saving Time period has closed on the last Sunday October, about a week before Election Day, which is held the Tuesday after the first Monday in November. The extension of Daylight Saving Time into November has been proposed as a way to encourage greater voter participation, the theory being that more people would go to the polls if it was still light when they returned home from work. The U.S. law taking effect in 2007 pushes the end of Daylight Saving Time to the first Sunday in November. In some years (2010, 2021, 2027, and 2032), this will fall after Election Day, giving researchers the opportunity to gauge its effect on voter turnout.
- To keep to their published timetables, trains cannot leave a station before the scheduled time. So, when the clocks fall back one hour in October, all Amtrak trains in the U.S. that are running on time stop at 2:00 a.m. and wait one hour before resuming. Overnight passengers are often surprised to find their train at a dead stop and their travel time an hour longer than expected. At the spring Daylight Saving Time change, trains instantaneously become an hour behind schedule at 2:00 a.m., but they just keep going and do their best to make up the time.
- In California, a Chevrolet Blazer packed with teenagers struck the median of a street and flipped over, tragically killing one teen and injuring several others. The teen driver, fighting charges of felony vehicular manslaughter, claimed that the street was dangerously wet and unsafe due a lawn sprinkler system. The landscaper responsible for the computerized sprinklers testified that the sprinklers were set to come on more than fifteen minutes after the fatal accident. The outcome hinged on whether the sprinklers’ timer had been adjusted for a recent Daylight Saving Time change, for without the DST adjustment, the sprinklers had close to 45 minutes to make the road slick.
- While twins born at 11:55 p.m. and 12:05 a.m. may have different birthdays, Daylight Saving Time can change birth order — on paper, anyway. During the time change in the fall, one baby could be born at 1:55 a.m. and the sibling born ten minutes later, at 1:05 a.m. In the spring, there is a gap when no babies are born at all: from 2:00 a.m. to 3:00 a.m. In November 2007, Laura Cirioli of North Carolina gave birth to Peter at 1:32 a.m. and, 34 minutes later, to Allison. However, because Daylight Saving Time reverted to Standard Time at 2:00 a.m., Allison was born at 1:06 a.m.
Information for this article was collected from the websites below. Click to read more about Daylight Saving Time.