Why Daylight Saving Time Should Be Year-Round

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With the annual Spring ritual of daylight saving time now upon us (thank goodness), I thought it would be an interesting discourse to revisit an article written in 2010 by Dustin Buehler, assistant professor of law at the University of Arkansas.

In this rather fascinating article, Buehler states that year-round daylight saving time has the potential to save hundreds of lives each year, decrease net energy consumption, and reduce criminal activity. Moreover, he says these benefits significantly outweigh the costs associated with winter daylight saving time.

Before we get to Buehler’s larger point, let’s take a brief look at the history of daylight saving time.

With the advent of World War I, several nations – including the United States – implemented national daylight saving time, in order to save energy and improve military training conditions.  The United States also observed year-round daylight saving time during World War II.

It wasn’t until 1966 that Congress officially implemented the Uniform Time Act which required all states to uniformly shift clocks forward on the last Sunday in April, and shift clocks back on the last Sunday in October.  The Act superseded all local laws on daylight saving time.  States are allowed to “opt out,” although currently only Hawaii and Arizona do not observe daylight saving time.

Most recently, Congress extended summer daylight saving time observance by four weeks, as part of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. Americans now “spring forward” on the second Sunday of March, and “fall back” on the first Sunday of November.

The goal of this extension was to save energy – the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy estimated at the time that expanded daylight saving time would save $4.4 billion and would reduce carbon emissions by 10.8 million metric tons by 2020.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at Buehler’s larger point – specifically the three reasons he lays out as to why daylight saving time should be year-round:

1) It saves lives

2) It saves energy

3) It has the potential to reduce crime

– Starting with point number one…

Studies show that year-round daylight saving time would result in significant net decreases in fatal motor-vehicle and pedestrian accidents.  Fatal accidents are much more likely during the evening commute, due to a variety of factors – drivers on their way home are tired, some have alcohol in their bloodstream, and the rush hour is longer and more irregular than the morning commute.

As a result, the number of lives that would be saved during an evening commute in daylight outweighs the number of lives that would be lost if the morning commute were in darkness.  This is confirmed by a recent study by Rutgers University professors Douglas Coate and Sara Markowitz, which found that winter daylight saving time would produce a thirteen-percent net decrease in pedestrian fatalities, and a three-percent net decrease in motor vehicle occupant fatalities – representing nearly 400 lives saved each year nationwide.

– Furthermore, let’s take a look at point number two…

Daylight saving time saves energy by reducing evening peak electricity loads.  Two factors cause “peaks” in electricity usage.  First, a peak in demand occurs due to sunset and falling temperatures.  Second, a peak in demand occurs when individuals commute home from work – electricity use increases in homes as offices are still using energy to complete their operations.

By extending daylight into the evening, winter daylight saving time would allow the peak caused by individuals commuting home to precede the peak caused by sunset and falling temperatures, slightly reducing total energy usage on balance (because it would prevent an unnecessarily pronounced evening peak load, which strains energy sources).

– And finally, point number three…

First, several British and American studies show that improved lighting reduces crime.  A systematic analysis by researchers in Britain’s Home Office showed a twenty percent decrease in crime in areas with improved street lighting. Additionally, incident rates for several crimes are low during morning hours and spike during the late afternoon and evening – for these crimes, time of day appears to be one of the most significant factors.

For example, recent research by Marcus Felson and Erika Poulsen demonstrates that individuals are much more likely to be victims of robbery during the afternoon and evening, rather than during the morning.  Similar patterns exist for several other crimes, including assault, larceny, motor vehicle theft, and juvenile crime.

For further reading on this subject, please visit Professor Buehler’s article “Time Well Spent: An Economic Analysis of Daylight Saving Time”

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