With two states opting out of the national clocks back/clocks forward time change long ago, and other states moving ahead to make daylight saving time (DST) permanent, has the time come to let the clocks just tick on? Leave the hands and digital displays that remind us when to wake, sleep, eat, work, and play to do their job without a biannual interruption of our sleep patterns? How did the time change get started, for whose benefit, and why do we still do it? And what does it take for a state or local jurisdiction to opt out and stand alone, victorious but tired of trying to explain to the next-door neighbors just over the time zone line that they did this in the name of freedom, justice, mom's apple pie but mostly common sense?
How Did dST get started?
Daylight saving time turns 100 years old this year. It started during World War I when the United States Congress passed what seemed like a sensible law: shift an hour of darkness from early morning to night, giving farmers extra light later in the day and helping people save energy by delaying the use of costly fuel resources until full darkness fell. The bill, passed on March 15, 1918, was originally created as a way to save fuel during the war, but also provided the additional advantage of luring people outdoors during extended daylight hours to shop, tend gardens, go to sporting events, and participate in other outdoor activities. But DST had its start earlier than 1918; Ben Franklin first proposed the idea in a 1784 letter to the editor of the Journal of Paris, calling for a tax on every window found with shutters closed after sunrise. His humorous reason for the tax? To encourage the use of sunshine as light, rather than candles. Neither the editors nor the city leaders took Franklin seriously, and there is nothing to suggest that Franklin took himself seriously when he wrote this letter.
Who benefits from DST?
The law's main beneficiaries were supposedly farmers and others whose work would be easier with more daylight, or so Congress reasoned. But farmers never supported DST; the loss of the early hour of daylight meant they had to rush to get their produce and cattle to market even earlier in the day, and dairy cows apparently had a difficult time adjusting to milking in darkness.
But the extra sunlight means more Vitamin D and a shorter season of the winter blues, right? That's true, according to a study by the Journal of Applied Psychology. But the headaches and workplace accidents that come with sleep pattern interruption may not make up for those health benefits.
Many public officials and state legislatures are taking a second look at DST and rethinking the idea of changing the clocks, considering instead to use DST as the standard time and remain on it year-round, since there is little to support the idea that the twice-a-year shift offers any benefits. The advent of technology and electricity render the need to juggle time obsolete, and the cost in human productivity due to the change is nearly a half-billion dollars annually.
Who's in and who's out of the time change party?
The Uniform Time Act of 1966 dictated the start of DST on the last Sunday of April and the end of DST on the last Sunday of October. This Congressional act was preceded by the Standard Time Act of 1918, and was designed to standardize the observance of time within established time zones. An amendment in 1972 allowed for areas within a state but in a different time zone to choose whether or not to observe DST. The most recent amendment in 1986 moved the start of DST to the first Sunday in April.
Two states opted out of DST (Arizona since 1968 and Hawaii since 1967)and a third (Florida) has passed a state legislative resolution to do so. But in Arizona, the Navajo Nation still observes DST to keep all the Navajo communities in the area, which is over 27,000 square miles and covers parts of Utah and New Mexico, on the same clock.
Other states wanting out of changing the clocks include Massachusetts, New York, Maine, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Alaska, Oregon, and Texas. But federal law only allows states to opt out of DST and remain in standard time year round, which is what Hawaii, Arizona, and Puerto Rico do. States and territories cannot opt for DST year-round unless Congress changes the law and makes this possible.
How did the spring-ahead/fall-back phrase get started?
The phrase's first print appearance was a 1957 edition of a Pennsylvania newspaper, The Derrick. Newspaper editor and radio commentator Walter Winchell does not take credit for inventing the saying; he gave credit to a Los Angeles Examiner writer when he used it in The Derrick to provide readers with a way to remember how to change the clocks ... "a clever and simple four-word memo to put the clock ahead or back: "spring forward, fall back."