The Daylight Saving Time Mess Just Won't Go Away
On March 12, most of the US and Canada will wake up to an hour stolen. Europe will suffer the same loss two weeks later—a victim of the persistent and unpopular practice of switching to daylight saving time. Much of the world has avoided or abandoned the practice, but in the US and Europe, lawmakers have been unable to stop the clocks from changing.
Nations started switching between standard time in winter and daylight saving time in summer during the First World War, as they sought to cut energy costs—an extra hour of daylight in the evening meant less time with the lights on. In the US and Europe, the practice caught on and persisted. But it’s facing more and more pushback.
“Globally, the debate is fixed—there are more countries not changing the clocks,” says Ariadna Güell Sans, co-coordinator of the Barcelona Time Use Initiative for a Healthy Society, an organization focused on time-related policy. Research has shown how moving the clocks forward and back, even by just one hour, negatively affects the economy, road safety, and health. Still, the US, Europe, and a few other nations are finding it hard to break the habit. The issue, says Güell Sans, is whether we stay on standard time or daylight saving time forever.
A year ago, the US Senate passed a bill to move the clocks forward an hour permanently. But it was not taken up in the US House of Representatives, which would also need to pass the bill before sending it to the president’s desk. A group of senators reintroduced the measure in early March 2023 to try again.
Europe is also trying to end the clock changes, but crises have halted the move: First it was Covid-19; then, for the past year, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has commanded the bloc’s attention. The European Parliament voted in 2019 to stop changing clocks, but it didn’t get the approval it needed from the European Union’s other legislative body, the European Council. The Council then shoved the issue to the EU’s executive, the European Commission, for an impact assessment.
Progress has been slow—and that’s bad for a number of reasons. More light at night leads to fewer collisions on roads during the evening rush hour. That’s why Steve Calandrillo, a professor at the University of Washington School of Law who has studied the economics of daylight saving time, says he’s an advocate for permanently adopting it. “Darkness kills,” Calandrillo says. “And sunshine saves.” There are economic benefits to this too. A study published last November argued that an extra hour of daylight in the evening could reduce collisions enough to save around $1.2 billion annually in the US alone.
Extra daylight while people are awake may also make them spend more money. “Americans are less willing to go out and shop in the dark,” says Calandrillo. A 2016 report from JPMorgan Chase & Co looked at spending in Los Angeles at the beginning and end of the daylight saving time period and compared it to Phoenix, Arizona, which doesn’t change its clocks. The research found a 0.9 percent increase in daily credit card spending per capita in Los Angeles in March after clocks jumped forward relative to Phoenix, and a 3.5 percent decrease in November once they fell back.