Let’s Turn Off Daylight Saving Time
The spring-forward fall-back changes cost businesses money, and the promised energy savings have never materialized. Pro or con?
Pro: A False Economy
Although Daylight Saving Time (DST) has been justified as an energy-conservation measure, it is no such thing.
Studies conducted by University of California researchers on Indiana before 2006, when the state operated under three different time regimes, and on Sydney, Australia, which extended DST to accommodate the 2000 Summer Olympic Games, show either no difference in energy consumption or a small increase in power usage during the months immediately after clocks were moved an hour ahead.
While these studies call into question the promised energy savings, there is no doubt about the costs of DST. According to my back-of-the-envelope calculation, in the U.S. we divert nearly $1.7 billion worth of valuable time to the annual spring-forward, fall-back exercise. That’s the opportunity cost—time that could be better spent on more productive things.
Economists typically value the opportunity cost at an individual’s wage rate. The Bureau of Labor Statistics preliminarily estimates that the average American’s hourly wage was $22.45 in January 2010.
Assuming it takes everyone 10 minutes to change all of his or her clocks and watches, the opportunity cost equals $3.74 per person. The one-time opportunity cost for the nation (based on total U.S. population over 18 years old, excluding residents of Arizona, which doesn’t observe DST) therefore is $836,117,536. Since clocks are changed twice yearly, the total must be doubled.
Businesses feel the costs as well. More than 1.5 billion people globally need to adjust clocks and schedules, even if their own countries haven’t officially adopted DST.
There are no real benefits and some very real costs related to DST. Congress should repeal the tyranny of government time and leave our clocks alone.
Con: Proven Benefits
Instead of turning Daylight Saving Time (DST) off, Congress should turn it on year-round.
First, despite the contrarians, DST saves energy. Why? Far more oil, electricity, and energy are used during evening darkness than morning because more Americans are awake at 5 p.m. than at 6 a.m. Hence, shifting sunlight to the evening causes a significant reduction in evening peak load, which outweighs a small increase in the early morning load caused by DST.
There are many more important advantages to DST. Numerous types of crime, including assault and theft, peak during evening darkness, while the corresponding rates are very low during early morning. Happily, DST allows society to take advantage of the fact that criminals are late to rise and late to bed.
The crime reduction associated with prolonged daylight helps individuals and businesses alike. U.S. retailers lost $42.2 billion to theft from mid-2008 to mid-2009, according to the Global Retail Theft Barometer, so a reduction in theft could mean big savings. The impact would be felt by mom-and-pop and big-box stores alike because 92% of retailers were theft victims in 2009, the National Retail Federation reports.
Most important, however, is the fact that DST saves lives. Simply put, darkness kills. Extending DST year-round would save more than 350 American lives annually in reduced traffic fatalities during the evening. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the change from daylight to twilight causes a 300% increase in fatal pedestrian crashes alone. Having this change occur one hour later saves lives because fewer motorists are on the road then.
The advantages of year-round DST—including energy conservation, crime reduction, and lives saved—clearly outweigh the disadvantages. It is past time for us to shift our thinking permanently forward on DST.