The Impending Hour: the Reasons and Reality of Daylight Saving Time

By YOUSUF ALI, Opinions Editor

There was a people who accepted annual anguish
They would set set their clocks forward, and in tiredness, they would languish
It would increase daylight, they were led to believe
As to how, no one could conceive
Upon learning more, the change, they chose to vanquish

It is that time of year once more, when everyone forfeits a hour of sleep without the slightest idea why. Whatever reasoning or explanation that is given invariably creates more questions than it answers. If so few people seem to understand the practice, why do we even do it in the first place? Before evaluating the practice, it is essential to understand the history and the reasoning behind it.

To a certain extent, the time change is part of the natural human instinct to schedule one’s activities around when the sun is out, but the change that we undergo during Daylight Saving Time (DST) is anything but natural. DST, which will occur March 12, was first introduced by Germany in World War I in order to save fuel; however, it was only after World War II that it became widespread. In America, DST was mandated nationally in 1966 by the Uniform Time Act, and states have to specifically opt out of DST rather than choose to accept the time change, as a consequence. Amongst policy makers, there is some attempt to explain how DST could possibly benefit us.

The initial justification behind DST was to save energy. This makes sense if light is the primary source of energy; however, as we have incorporated more electronics into our lives, this justification seems tenuous to say the least. Perhaps, the less anachronistic justification is that DST essentially realigns our schedules with that of the sun. Even more directly, DST proponents claim that the time change actually reduces car accidents and benefits the sports and recreation industry. They argue that since people are driving when the sun is out, they can see more and will drive safer as a result. Upon closer scrutiny, these claims about the benefits of DST fail to justify the practice.

DST is not a mere annoyance; rather, it is an anachronistic practice with fatal consequences. The reasoning behind the claim that DST actually reduces car accidents fails to take into account a crucial factor: sleep deprivation. Put simply, DST causes most people to lose sleep, people who lose sleep are more tired, people who are tired tend to make careless mistakes while driving, and people who make such mistakes are more likely to get into car accidents.  In fact, studies have shown the exact opposite of what DST proponents claim about car accidents. Also, it is not just car accidents, but heart attacks spike the Monday after the time change as well. It is safe to assume that the loss of human life outweighs any potential economic benefit of DST.

Even for those amongst us who do prioritize economic benefit over human life, the effects of DST are not unambiguously positive. While certain outdoor industries may benefit from the time change, the loss of sleep affects workers from all sectors of the economy. Put simply, people who are more tired are less productive. Furthermore, the majority of the world does not implement the time change, and the countries that do vary considerably amongst themselves. For example, a weekly conference call scheduled at noon in Houston with someone from Mexico City would shift from Central Standard Time to Central Daylight Time and back in less than a month, even though both the cities are geographically in the same time zone. In an increasingly internationalized world, the complications resulting from the time change are the last thing people need. As people become more aware of these facts, the prospect of change increases.

In many ways, Michigan is positioned to lead the the country in the transition from DST. For one, our state is on the westernmost boundary of the Eastern Time Zone.  As such, the awkwardness we would experience from being the only state in the time zone not to implement the time change would be mitigated by the fact that we are also near major hubs in the Central Time Zone including Chicago and Milwaukee. So, we would essentially be alternating between Central and Eastern time zones as the states and provinces around us change their schedule. This time last year, Representative Scott Dianda introduced legislation that would opt Michigan out of the time change; however, it will need grassroots advocacy before the change is implemented. The key is to make our lawmakers aware that we actually want such a change. A good first step is to find and contact your state legislators directly, and while your individual inquiry may not have a direct impact, the voices of many cannot be ignored. Should the legislators fail to act, there is always the possibility of putting a measure directly on the ballot. In any case, there are plenty of avenues for our state to opt out of DST.

For most, DST is nothing more than another inconvenient fact of life, but it is so much more. Imposing such a drastic change on the entire society inevitably has consequences, of which, some are deadly. Additionally, many of the reasons for its initial implementation are no longer applicable. As it stands, the only way for the country to move away from DST is state by state, and Michigan has potential to be a leader in this regard. Even though it may seem daunting, it is probably the only public policy issue with such a simple solution. It is up to us whether or not we will continue to tolerate this practice.