The Nation's Pulse

It’s Digital Nuisance Time

Nothing saved, nothing gained.

By 3.14.11

Yesterday you forgot to set the alarm clock so you had to scramble to get to church. This morning when you got in the car you realized you hadn't re-set the clock. So, next weekend you'll pull out the owner's manual and once again figure out how to do it.

Welcome to Daylight Saving Time, a.k.a. Digital Nuisance Time. In this age when nearly everything is digital, millions of Americans (not to mention folks elsewhere) must remember to set all of their timepieces ahead. A few timepieces do it themselves. Most do not. And it costs businesses untold millions to do the same with office and operating equipment. 

The phenomenon has been with us off and on since World War I, when it was thought that the reduced need for electricity in the evening would save fuel for the war effort. No one was able to prove that it did. Critics said that the real reason it was adopted was that President Woodrow Wilson wanted more time in the evening to play golf.

It came back full force in World War II, lasting year-round from 1942 to 1945. In the 1960s it was used according to local laws until Congress decided to make it uniform throughout the country. Congress has been tinkering with it ever since. In 2007 it extended DST to begin the second Sunday in March (yesterday) until the first Sunday in November. The underlying theory seems to be that if a little bit is good, a lot must be better.

Several reasons are advanced for having DST, most with little evidence to support them. The very term "Daylight Saving Time" is a misnomer, since it does not "save" daylight; it only shifts it from the morning to the evening.

One reason put forth is traffic safety. A recent study by Carnegie Mellon University found that pedestrians are three times more likely to be hit by a car in the days immediately following the end of DST. This corroborates a 2001 University of Michigan survey. It found that 65 persons were killed during the week before the end of DST and 227 the week after.

Another reason: Less violent crime. Government studies show that crimes where darkness is a factor occur 10 to 13 percent more in evening Standard Times than in comparable DSTs. Is this attributable to DST or to the continuing downward trend in violent crime?

Saves gasoline? The government calculates that Daylight Saving Time results in about four days' worth of reduced U.S. gasoline consumption a year.

Safer Halloween? Having more daylight for trick-or-treating children was expected to reduce the hazard of accidents with traffic. Kids didn't like it. It turns out they waited to go out until it was dark. It was more spooky that way. 

Who likes it? Various surveys show many people say they do because they enjoy longer summer evenings. The surveys are asked in a way that almost always elicits that response. Evening golfers like it. Shopping mall store proprietors like it, presumably because it provides a greater incentive for customers to shop till they drop. 

Who doesn't like it? People with sleep disorders. Farmers and poultry producers (Canadian Marty Notenbomer, for example, says, "The chickens do not adapt to the changed clock until several weeks have gone by."), school children (who get to wait in the dark for the school bus), businesses having to reset their automatic equipment. And don't forget China and India. Neither of them uses it and, lest we forget, China is eating our lunch in international trade and India's not far behind. 

The solution to the inconvenience, dubious benefits and confusion caused by Daylight Saving Time -- Digital Nuisance Time -- is simple. Make it year around or do away with it year around. Russia's President Dmitri Medvedev, after reducing the number of his country's times zones from 11 to eight, is considering just that--DST year around or not at all.

Congress has tinkered with this for decades. It's time for them to simplify this aspect of life, period. Then they can concentrate on cutting spending and the federal deficit.

Like this Article

Print this Article

Print Article
About the Author
Peter Hannaford was closely associated with the late President Reagan for a number of years. He is the editor of “Washington Merry-Go-Round: The Drew Pearson Diaries, 1960-69,” which will be published in September.