Editorial: Time’s running out on daylight saving shift

A custodian changes the time on a clock face atop the courthouse in Clay Center, Kan. on Nov. 6, 2010.
(Charlie Riedel / Associated Press)

The biannual shifting of the clocks took place Sunday morning, and you may be a little discombobulated. The transition to daylight saving time each March means losing the extra hour of night we enjoyed when the clocks shifted back four months earlier, and it can take a while for sleep schedules to adjust.

If the twice-a-year clock-resetting leaves you grumpy, you’re not alone; there’s a growing global movement to end this pointless and, frankly, weird 20th century tradition that has persisted despite having no real practical benefit. The European Parliament is expected to vote to stop observing daylight saving time later this month. Last year, the Florida Legislature voted to move to full-time daylight saving if Congress allows it. And in November, Californians voted to start the process to move to year-round daylight saving time as well. Currently, all states except Hawaii and Arizona observe daylight saving time, but about half are considering proposals to stop doing so, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

But there’s a danger that this could deepen the time confusion. While California and Florida and other states are interested in moving to daylight saving time year-round, legislative proposals in other states would have them returning to year-round standard time (the time we currently keep during winter months). Federal law sets the date we change the clocks, and allows states to opt out and stay on standard time (but not daylight saving time).

There’s just no good reason to keep skipping back and forth in time every year.


You can see the potential problem: If a handful of states decided to stop changing clocks and revert to standard time while the rest of the nation continues to go back and forth and a few states lobby for permission to go to full-time daylight saving time, it could lead to chaos, with a bunch of different states on a bunch of different times.

For the record, we would prefer a national shift to year-round daylight saving, which means more daylight in the evening during the winter, when more people are awake. A 2001 study by the California Energy Commission estimated that there might be small savings in energy usage by sticking with permanent daylight saving time. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has introduced a bill to make daylight saving time permanent for the entire country.

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What Congress should not do is allow states to do their own thing, or force the nation to keep observing this outdated time shift. There’s just no good reason to keep skipping back and forth in time every year. The length of day does not increase; even all our fancy technology can’t alter the tilt of Earth’s axis as it orbits the sun. We don’t save energy; the expected large-scale energy savings that drove the invention of daylight saving time during World War I never materialized in peacetime. And though many people were told that the shift had something to do with agriculture, farmers apparently couldn’t care less about the numbers displayed on our timekeeping devices. In fact, farmers were the main opponents of the 1949 ballot initiative that started the clock-changing tradition in California.

If there are any tangible effects of jumping forward and falling back, they may be ones we don’t want. Studies have found a slight increase in heart attacks and traffic accidents in the days just after the spring clock change. There’s no proof that this is anything more than an interesting correlation, but it’s highly suggestive given that lack of sleep can decrease alertness and exacerbate existing health problems.

Now, the California Legislature should move to the next stage of this process and pass the bill that would make permanent daylight saving if Congress allows it. But with a caveat: The state should only allow daylight saving to become permanent if it is done by the rest of the country as well. It would be better to stick with the relatively harmless, if annoying, practice of falling back and springing forward an hour every year than to become a place out of time.

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