Next on the Daylight Saving Express: Make It Year-Round
President Warren G. Harding didn't like daylight saving time. If people want more daylight, he said, they should just wake up earlier.
So in 1922, when the District had no law requiring shifting of the clock, Harding issued an executive order mandating that all federal employees start work at 8 a.m. rather than at 9. Private employers could do as they pleased.
The result was a holy mess, as some trains, buses, theaters and retailers shifted their hours of operation and some didn't. Washingtonians rebelled, deriding Harding's policy as "rag time." After one summer of confusion, Harding backed down and repealed his order.
This morning, by federal mandate, the sun rose at 7:26; yesterday, at 6:28. Tonight, the sun will set at 7:11; last night, at 6:10.
This shift, moving to lighter evenings three weeks earlier than in past years, is the latest in a long struggle to expand daylight saving time -- a fight that should continue until we hit year-round daylight time (in essence, a shift in our time zones).
Since 1966, the feds have ordained when and how clocks will change throughout the country, except for Arizona and Hawaii. But for most of a century, lawmakers have periodically played around with the clock, trying to make light last longer each day, even as farmers fought the changes.
Now, the farmers are in retreat. Modern equipment has made them less dependent on the sun, says David Prerau, a former Transportation Department researcher who wrote "Seize the Daylight," a book on the nation's time wars, and consulted with members of Congress on the law that took effect today.
That leaves the opposition mainly in the hands of airlines, which say they have trouble competing for arrival slots at foreign airports when U.S. time doesn't match up with European time.
Such concerns pale in the face of all the wonderful things that come with more light. Not only does the extra hour of sunshine put a smile on folks' faces, as Rep. Edward Markey, Congress's Mr. Daylight Time, likes to say, but the additional light is credited with saving energy, cutting crime and making roads safer.
I'm just happy to have the extra time to take a family walk, play hoops or linger over drinks at an outdoor cafe. Adding an hour of sunlight at the end of the day is primarily a "lifestyle benefit," Prerau says, but it's mainly the promise of energy savings that got this bill passed in 2005.
The theory behind the fuel savings is that "a lot of people sleep through sunrise and businesses are closed," Prerau says, "but everyone's up at sunset and businesses are open, so more electricity is used in the evening. So if you can move the daylight to the evening, you save a lot of energy."
Similarly, while bad guys are usually asleep in the early morning, dusk brings about prime time for crime. The extra light late in the day suppresses crime rates. A federal study of expanding daylight time in the '70s found a drop in crime in the District of about 10 percent when daylight time is in effect.
Later light also reduces car crashes, which tend to spike after dark. (Another group that tends to oppose shifting daylight is parents whose kids wait for school buses in the early morning darkness. Prerau says darker mornings do produce more car accidents involving kids, but that increase is more than made up for by the much larger decline in early evening accidents.)
The clock shift was originally designed to create more leisure time. William Willett, the British architect and golfer who came up with the idea in 1907, wanted to stuff more light into the day so people could play games after work. But it took a war for his proposal to become reality: Germany adopted daylight time during World War I to save fuel; the U.S. and Britain quickly matched the enemy's move.
Ever since, changes in time laws have been driven primarily by war and energy crises. FDR called daylight time "war time." (Woodrow Wilson caved to farmers and reverted to what the farmers called "God's time.") During the 1970s energy crisis, and again in 1986, the prospect of fuel savings won expansions of daylight time. This time, Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, teamed up with Republican Fred Upton of Michigan to get daylight time started yet another few weeks earlier, again with the expectation that the move would save oil.
Of course, if we were really serious about conserving energy, dozens of other moves would do so far more efficiently, but if that's the excuse politicians need to improve life in a single stroke, so be it. In Britain, Parliament is considering a move to adopt daylight time in the winter and double daylight time in summer. In Washington, that would mean a 9:40 p.m. sunset in late June. Ahhhhh.
By Marc Fisher |
March 11, 2007; 8:39 AM ET
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