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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 After one summer of confusion, Harding backed down and repealed his order.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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Please email us to report offensive comments.

being a night person i don't care for daylight savings time.ahhh that.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 11, 2007 9:19 AM

So depressing! At 7:15 this morning, it was still fully dark. Losing an hour of light is demoralizing and disruptive. Just as it was starting to get light earlier, and we had begun to feel a bit hopeful that spring might come.

Posted by: Lynn Serritella | March 11, 2007 9:29 AM

I hate DST too! And frankly it doesn't really save energy because people are out more in their cars. Any savings are cancelled due to more gas usage, and also more lights on in the morning. One of the bigger proponents of DST are the retailers!

I was really enjoying getting up in daylight and now I'm back to getting up before sunrise.


Posted by: Anonymous | March 11, 2007 9:42 AM

nonsense article,this change is devastating to those that cant jump out of bed like a three stooges movie and face the hell of daily life without adequate sleep,idiot,swinehund,dolt

Posted by: r chisolm | March 11, 2007 9:50 AM

Parents of school-age kids may not like DST, but those of us with preschoolers who always (even with heavy curtains) rise with the sun are thrilled. Maybe in two or three years I'll change my tune, but today is a holiday in our family.

Posted by: sleepy dad | March 11, 2007 10:06 AM

If your workday starts at 8 AM, you are probably getting up no later than 7 AM. If sunrise is not until 7:45 (as it was today where I live), you are turning lights on at home in the morning that you would not have to if the sunrise were at 6:45.

So much for the energy savings.

8 months of daylight savings time is ridiculous; 4 is plenty.

And no, Mr. Fisher, I am not a farmer or in the airlines industry. I am person who does not "naturally" wake up before sunrise.

Posted by: K. Thompson | March 11, 2007 10:17 AM

As DST was originally for the summer months, but has over time expanded so that now it covers almost 8 months of the years, why not call it "standard" time and the rest of the year "winter" time? After all - it is now the "standard".

Posted by: R Shroy | March 11, 2007 10:28 AM

I'm of the group that believes that losing the hour of light in the morning makes you feel more like you're getting up in the middle of the night to trudge off somewhere, and that you consequently turn on more lights, etc. in the morning than before, and that the sense of a longer day means you go out and do more in the evening, again using more electricity, gas, etc.

My suggestion is that the United States mainland has two time zones, one east of the Mississippi, one west of the Mississippi, an hour apart. This can be done in two stages: when it's time to fall back, only the east coast falls back; when it's time to jump forward (the next time around), only the west coast moves forward.

The ultimate, of course, is if you went to one time zone world wide (i.e., a 24 hour clock). Businesses and organizations would adapt hours to the new timing, just as shift workers do. Whether you started school at 0800 hours, 1400 hours, or 2200 hours would be irrelevant; you would have eliminated the mentality that certain things can start only at certain hours on the clock, but rather things would adapt to daylight/night sky. All you would need to do is simply become clock conscious, just as you have to do now.

Posted by: Dungarees | March 11, 2007 11:46 AM

Moving the start of DST up to March 11 is one of the dumbest things the Republican Congress did -- and that's saying a lot. At the latitude where I live the sun now won't rise until 7:30 am. That means getting up in the dark and going to work in the dark. I guess since members of Congress rarely roll out of bed before 10 am they didn't give any thought to those of us who put in a full day on the job.

Also the kids are going to be walking to school or waiting for buses in the dark.

The term "Daylight Savings Time" is itself ridiculous. You can't "save" daylight. You can't add one minute of daylight to the day. All you can do is take away some daylight from the morning and add it to the evening. In summer when the days are long anyway this doesn't matter, but in winter it's ridiculous.

Posted by: Bruce Miller | March 11, 2007 12:40 PM

If we are going to have DST, let's be honest and call it for what it is - Daylight Shifting Time. Without DST, as a gardener, I would be able to garden for a few hours beofre I go to work and for a few more in the evening when I come home from work.But why change the clocks at all. Just have business change their hours.Many businesses are now on flext time anyway, it would not add to the confusion at all.

Posted by: W PLUMMER | March 11, 2007 12:45 PM

9:40 sunset is absolutely ridiculous...why not just shift two more hours ahead and have a midnight sunset? Then we'd be *really* saving some daylight! (And having the sun rise at a staggering 8:40AM, who cares when people aren't doing anything to use the sunlight then anyway)

Posted by: College Park | March 11, 2007 2:53 PM

Today is the best day of the year! Bring on the sunlight! I guess because I don't have to get up early in the morning, I am 100 percent biased in favor of more evening light, but even if you are up in the early a.m., isn't the sunshine more valuable at the end of the day, when you can do something fun with it?

Posted by: Alice | March 11, 2007 3:28 PM

Anyone who likes to golf after work loves this switch. Of course, if you live in Alaska and not DC, it's immaterial.

Posted by: Kevin in AK | March 11, 2007 7:31 PM

I think the change is wonderful. It's always depressing in the winter, when the days are getting shorter anyway, and all of a sudden you get a whole hour taken away from your daylight time. It just makes me happier all around to have it still light outside after work, to be able to go for a walk or just enjoy being outside at that time. It also gives me time to garden after work. I would be thrilled if it were expanded to all year.

Posted by: Liz | March 11, 2007 9:30 PM

Years ago, I worked for an engineering firm in Maryland that had a project in Miami, so one of my jobs was to read the Miami Herald for news items about said project. Of course, I took this as an excuse to read the entire paper. And the one thing that has stuck in my mind for decades was an angry letter from a Florida homeowner denouncing the start of Daylight Savings Time because, "It means there will be an extra hour of sun to burn up the lawns."

Think about that. Here was a man literate enough to write, stamp and mail (this being well pre-Internet) a letter to the Herald and he actually thought that what we did to the clock controlled the sun!

Personally--I don't like the change. If you like daylight so much, move to northern Scotland where, in mid-Summer, there is still a glow on the horizon at 11 pm. I leave for work at 5:50 and it was like midnight out there.

Posted by: Jack | March 12, 2007 8:45 AM

Up until this year, I've been happy about the change to daylight savings time. Not this year. The three-weeks-earlier change in time means that it's dark when the alarm rings, making it absolutely miserable to get out of bed and get ready to go to work. My partner and I have both been stumbling groggily out the door and into our cars or down the sidewalk toward Metro. And from the comments posted here, we're far from the only ones.

I'd like to know whether there has been an increase in accidents -- whether vehicular or pedestrian -- during the first few days of this ill-advised change.

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