Daylight Savings Time: Too Much of a Good Thing?

It is that time again. It is time to rollback our clocks an hour. Standard time resumes for much of the country at 2 AM tonight. I will do my part by gleefully enjoying my extra hour and setting our clocks back an hour before I retire.

Some entries back I pondered the nature of time. Daylight Savings Time attempts to align our body’s natural clock with the increased daylight hours throughout much of the year.

The desirability of Daylight Saving Time seems to increase as your latitude increases. The closer you are to the equator the less the differences in the durations of day and night throughout the year. Hence, the less need for Daylight Saving Time. This is one of the reasons that Hawaii and most of Arizona stay on standard time all year round. Most of the rest of the country begins Daylight Savings Time on the first Sunday of April. It ends on the last Saturday of October.

It used to be that Daylight Savings Time did not begin until the last Sunday in April. In 1986, the Uniform Time Act of 1966 was amended to start Daylight Savings Time beginning the first Sunday in April. This change seemed reasonable to me because in my part of the country the sun was rising around 5:30 AM by mid April.

I would prefer that standard time actually resume a week or two earlier than permitted by the current law. For a couple weeks now, I have been unable to bike to work. It is just too dark and too dangerous, since I have to cross multiple lanes of traffic. I also find myself yawning at work when I arrive around 7:30 AM. On a clear morning, the sun is just coming up; on a cloudy day, it can be 8:30 AM before you can see reasonably well outside.

However, apparently Congress thinks that we cannot have too much Daylight Savings Time. Starting in March 2007, Daylight Savings Time will be extended another four to five weeks, beginning the second Sunday in March and ending the first Sunday in November.

Why? Ostensibly, it is about saving energy. Proponents claim that it will save 10,000 barrels of oil per day. Maybe it will and maybe it won’t. The math sure looks dubious. What it does do is artificially provide more evening hours of daylight, and that means more time for people to be out shopping in the evenings. In other words, we must all adjust our body clocks in order to make the economy hum just a bit faster!

Humph! I wish Congress had just left well enough alone. What this will mean is that more children will be shuttling off to school unnecessarily in the dark. It will also mean that people like me, who are very sensitive to nature’s natural cycles, will also be getting up needlessly in the dark. As if many of us living around large metropolitan areas were not already rising at 4 or 5 AM to beat the crushing traffic, now we want to exacerbate the problem! All to perhaps marginally push up the profits of slimy retailers like Wal-Mart.

No thanks. This is one law that should be repealed before it takes effect. It is also one law that I suspect will get changed after a few years, because Congress will hear sufficient clamor from citizens. After all, they will not be much affected. Congress does not start its sessions until 9 or 10 AM. There is no reason to mess needlessly like this with the biological clocks of 300 million Americans. It adds unnatural stress and makes some of us feel a bit like vampires. We no longer live in an agrarian society. There is no reason we should needlessly be up with the cows.

There is also a financial impact to the change. Businesses all over the country must adjust their systems to accommodate the change. I hope that for many of them it requires just a simple change to a configuration file. For others, it is a costly change. While not quite as painful as the year 2000 problem, it is still pretty darn annoying. In my agency, for example, we must go in and change a whole lot of old code. We could be doing something productive with our time. Instead, we are wasting thousands of man-hours to comply with the law. (Our system is an old legacy system written in Fortran. However, as long as we are in there, we plan to make it much easier to deal with future changes.)

What is good for business is not always what is best for America. This is another shining example of a good premise insufficiently thought through.

(I fly to Montana tomorrow. So I actually gain three hours only to lose two when I return on Friday. As if this time stuff wasn’t weird enough!)

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