Daylight saving time: the first sign of spring

  • Article by: KIM ODE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 9, 2014 - 8:05 AM

The cue for daylight saving time is “spring ahead, fall back” — for those who, twice a year, draw a blank about which way to reset their clocks.

This used to make sense, back when we didn’t “spring” ahead until the last Sunday in April, when there might reasonably be some crocus.

But March 9? Really?

Yet today, we have awakened to our watches, clocks, timers, car clocks, alarms, microwave ovens and grandfather clocks all duly moved ahead one hour into daylight saving time (DST), where we will remain until November.

Yes, standard time now lasts a mere four months, making it anything but the standard.

But then, daylight saving time is full of contradictions that confound and fascinate. Consider that no daylight actually is saved, as in some solar IRA. Instead, we shift how we define a day so that the evening hours remain illuminated later throughout the summer — as if an hour has been “saved” for twilight canoe rides and extra innings.

But the actual hours of daylight don’t increase because Congress passed a law, but because Minnesota, and the northern hemisphere, tilt toward the sun.

Yet, like Congress, the semiannual time shift comforts and afflicts.

Research into DST’s impact has mixed results: It saves energy or squanders energy; bolsters health or can kill you; is an economic engine or a drag on the bottom line.

People even debate its name. Conversationally, most refer to daylight savings time, but its proper name is daylight saving time (and boy, the keepers of all that’s proper regard voicing that extra “s” as a ticket to Guantanamo).

Or, we could just get up sooner

David Levinson, a professor of civil engineering at the University of Minnesota, has studied the effects of daylight saving time from a traffic safety standpoint, finding the shift makes driving no more dangerous than at any other time. But he also views DST through sociological and economic lenses.

Energy savings used to be the primary reason, he said, with the logic that if it stayed sunlit later, people wouldn’t turn on their lights.

“My own view is that people should get up earlier,” Levinson added, not unreasonably.

These days, DST starts on the second Sunday of March and ends on the first Sunday of November, as stated by the Energy Policy Act of 2005. But DST isn’t really about energy anymore, since a government study in 2007 reported an annual nationwide electricity savings of just 0.03 percent. Another study noted that any savings in lighting costs is offset by our tendency to crank on the air conditioner or furnace.

The clearest benefit appears to be a drop in crime, especially robbery, during the more illuminated evening hours.

Follow the money

Today, the most powerful drivers of DST may be economics and culture.

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