It’s Time to Stop Changing Clocks

It’s Time to Stop Changing Clocks

Just over two weeks ago, the entire country–except those residing in Arizona and Hawaii–participated in the annual spring forward to daylight saving time that occurs on the second Sunday in March. It could be the last time.

On March 15, the Senate passed legislation to make daylight saving time permanent. Introduced by Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) as the Sunshine Protection Act, the bill passed via a unanimous consent agreement, which requires the approval of all 100 senators. While this rare act of bipartisanship is encouraging, Americans–including college students–remain split on the issue.

In an AP-NORC poll conducted in 2019, only 28% of those surveyed wanted to continue switching back and forth every year. However, those in favor of setting one time year-round are split on the solution, which would either be dark early mornings and sunny evenings, or bright early mornings and dark late afternoons. Of those surveyed, 40% favored the former, and 31% favored the latter. Thus, permanent daylight saving time does have the most support of the three options, but Americans have a long history of hating it, and for good reason.

Daylight saving is a wartime relic, a measure first implemented by Germany and subsequently adopted by the rest of Europe to conserve fuel. The United States first implemented daylight saving time in March 1918, but it was unpopular and thus abolished after the war. However, daylight saving time returned in 1942 when President Franklin Roosevelt enforced year-round “wartime,” until shortly after the war ended in 1945.  

The Uniform Time Act of 1966 was the first time the United States standardized daylight saving time–that is, the first time it was used in peacetime. Nonetheless, states were authorized to forego the clock change so long as the entire state participated. 

Yet, only seven years later, daylight saving time was once again used to combat a crisis. In response to the 1973 oil embargo, Congress enacted year-round daylight saving time nationwide in an attempt to conserve energy. The attempt failed, because any energy saved by reducing the use of light was offset by an increased use of air conditioning. On top of that, most Americans hated it. 

As Susan Davis writes for NPR, “Americans do not like changing their clocks, but they disliked even more going to work and school in the dark for months—the price the nation had to pay for more sunlight in winter evenings.” 

Indeed, if the Sunshine Protection Act passes the House and is signed into law by President Biden, the morning commute to school and work will be shrouded in darkness. When daylight saving time was last enacted year-round in the 1970s, eight Florida schoolchildren died in predawn car accidents. On a broader scale, fatal traffic accidents increased by 6 percent nationwide during the transition to daylight saving time.

There are, however, several points to be made against permanent daylight saving time. For one, standard time “allows for closer alignment to the sun’s light-dark cycle which governs our circadian rhythms, and our social clocks, which dictate, among other things, when people need to wake up for work and for school.”

Thus, daylight saving time may throw our social clocks out of alignment with the solar clock, which causes social jet lag. Social jet lag refers to the tiredness or fatigue resulting from a discrepancy in a person’s sleep pattern between the weekday and weekend. Researchers Erin Flynn-Evans and Cassie Hiditch found that “Individuals who live on the western side of a time zone, where there is more sunlight in the evening, have a higher risk of poor health and shorter life expectancy compared to those who live on the eastern side, where the sun rises and sets earlier relative to the clock time.”

Nevertheless, the case for eliminating standard time in favor of permanent daylight saving time, which Senator Rubio proposed, is also convincing; and for very different reasons. Steve Calandrillo, a law professor at the University of Washington, argues that D.S.T. mitigates the risk of fatal car accidents and criminal activity, which both occur in evening darkness at higher rates than in morning darkness. 

The switch from daylight saving time to standard time is also associated with an 11 percent increase in depressive episodes, according to a 2017 mental health study. This may be associated with the tendency to spend more time outside after 5:30 p.m. than before 7:30 a.m. 

In short, the daylight saving time debate is defined by a clear consensus with an impossible solution. The vast majority of Americans want to stop changing their clocks twice a year, but cannot agree on the solution; and for good reason. Daylight saving time and standard time each have their pros and cons, and none of which noticeably outweighs the other. 

While public opinion remains deadlocked, the issue may not be as complex for college students. The variety of nationwide circumstances that contribute to the debate may not immediately apply to college students, who are likely more focused on factors directly affecting their everyday lives. In a way, college life is insulated from many real-world problems. 

In an Instagram poll conducted by the Bulldog, 61% of respondents do not want to keep changing clocks for daylight saving time, while 39% did. Between permanent daylight saving time and permanent standard time, respondents favored standard time. Some of the cons of standard time–criminal activity and fatal car accidents during evening commutes–aren’t exactly issues I would expect many college students to be concerned with. 

The benefits of standard time, on the other hand, would favor college students. Eliminating the social jet lag that accompanies the change to daylight saving time would reduce students’ fatigue. This is especially important during the month of March when many professors schedule midterm exams. It follows, then, that most college students prefer permanent standard time to daylight saving time. 

Scientific evidence shows time change brings increased risks of fatal car accidents, heart attacks and strokes, and depressive episodes. It is time to stop changing clocks, but the best solution is up for debate. What do you think?

Photo contributed by Bulldog photographer Kyle Eaton.