'Springing forward' is wrong
By Beth Cody, Writers’ Group member
Iowa City Press-Citizen
Wednesday, March 10, 2010

This Sunday is the day hated by many: the day in which government has decreed that we must all change our clocks ahead one hour. Yes, I'm referring to Daylight Savings Time.

The second Sunday of each March we are obliged to set our clocks ahead by one hour, and this is reversed in November. Proponents of DST believe that much of the extra sunlight during longer summer days is "wasted" by shining in the early morning hours, when relatively few people are awake. Then during Autumn, we must change back so that there is not too little morning sunlight, with people driving to work in total darkness.

Other justifications given for DST include theoretically saving energy, encouraging increased healthy outdoor activity and making driving safer.

But these benefits are not actually as beneficial as we have been led to believe, and there are numerous ill effects brought on by our twice-yearly government-imposed time shifts that should make us reconsider the costs and benefits of DST.

Healthwise, humans are not machines to be instantly reprogrammed without side effects. Our bodies have circadian rhythms that take weeks to adjust, and the "Spring Forward" is particularly hard on us.

Studies have shown that heart attacks increase during the several days following the Spring change, and both car accidents and industrial accidents likewise increase due to sleepiness. There is some evidence of increased suicides, and seasonal affective disorder can worsen due to less morning sunlight.

And in the Fall, when we revert back to standard time, the sudden switch results in a substantial increase in pedestrian deaths, because both motorists and pedestrians are mentally unprepared for the hazards of an earlier dusk.

The economic effects of DST are also likely underestimated.

First, there is no evidence that we are actually saving any energy at all. The studies are contradictory and those that show savings at all indicate only a miniscule amount. In fact, a study done in Indiana, which only adopted statewide DST in 2006, shows that residential energy use actually increased by 1%-4% in the counties that adopted DST.

The theory behind saving energy is that people will use electric lights less during lighter evenings. However, energy-use patterns have changed much in the past half-century: air-conditioning is now widespread and DST means temperatures stay warmer later, necessitating longer energy-guzzling AC use. Also, evening activities are now more likely to include watching television or surfing the net than enjoying outdoor recreation. Thus the energy increase.

And despite being told for decades that farmers benefit from DST, the opposite is actually true, since farmers need dew to dry on crops earlier, and they like an earlier sunset so they can go home at a decent hour.

Prime-time television suffers during later summer hours. Oh, and outdoor movie theaters were completely destroyed by later summer sunsets.

And then there's the economic costs of millions of people taking the time to physically re-set their clocks, the missed appointments, the lost productivity of tired, cranky people, and the occasional industrial disasters and medical mishaps resulting from erroneous automatic clock resets.

However, it is true that retailers and sporting goods manufacturers benefit from later shopping and sports participation hours. The lobbyists from those industries were largely responsible for the adoption of DST in the first place, so I suppose we should be happy that we are endangering and inconveniencing ourselves for their benefit.

The question is: during the summers when we would already enjoy later sunsets anyway, do we really need an extra hour of sunlight in the evenings badly enough to justify the unhealthy and costly effects of Daylight Savings Time?

This Sunday, when remembering to turn your clock ahead and check your smoke detectors, don't forget to question the wisdom of government meddling with something as fundamental as the time of day.