Strong: To save or not to save (time)
“An act to save daylight and provide standard time for the United States.”
— Standard Time Act, passed March 19, 1918.
In a few days, millions of Americans will go through an annual ritual that most of us wish we could go through – losing an hour of sleep. The history of this masochistic ritual goes back many years. The history of timekeeping goes back even further.
For millennia, people used sundials to measure time based on the position of the sun. When the sun was directly overhead, it was noon. Different types of clocks were created as civilization progressed, but the sun remained the standard measure of time.
In the Middle Ages, mechanical clocks were invented and days were divided into hours, minutes and seconds. Every town and city set their clocks by the sun, so noon was always 12:00 local time. Because most travel was relatively slow, this did not present much of a problem; people would simply reset their watches or clocks at their new destination.
However, when the railroad was established and travel covered more ground quickly, time differences in different areas became a major problem. In 1840, England set a standard time for the whole country so that the railways would have consistent timetables. By 1880, this “standard time” became law in England.
The US and Canada followed suit. On November 18, 1883, the railroads officially established four time zones across the continent, with consistent time in each zone. This simplified planning and made travel and trade much more efficient. These time zones were eventually adopted at the national level.
During World War I, several countries, including parts of the US, adopted the idea of daylight saving time. In 1918, the US Congress passed the Standard Time Act, making daylight saving time official. However, each state can determine when, where, and if DST will be implemented. This resulted in nationwide confusion.
Because of this, in 1966, Congress passed the Uniform Time Act, so every zone using DST would start and stop on the same dates. Under this law, states can choose not to observe DST, but no state can stay on DST throughout the year. Hawaii, Arizona and some US territories do not observe DST.
Pending potential federal legislation amending the act, 20 states have passed laws or resolutions to make DST permanent, if allowed. Others are working on laws to decide the fate of DST in their states. In 2021, three Nevada state senators introduced Senate Bill 153 to make DST permanent, but the bill was never heard. No new bill has been introduced.
DST started at the beginning of April and ended at the end of October. Congress expanded this time frame in 2005, so now we set our clocks forward to early March and again to early November. That means we’ve been on DST for almost eight months and on standard time for just over four months.
Since we’re on DST for almost two-thirds of the year anyway, millions of Americans think we should go on permanent DST. In March 2022, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., reintroduced the Sun Protection Act, which would make DST permanent year-round. The US Senate unanimously approved this bill, but the bill failed in the House of Representatives.
Besides avoiding the hassle of changing the clocks twice a year, would it matter if we stayed on standard time or DST year-round? Various studies have found that changing the clock has real health consequences.
“The University of Colorado at Boulder looked at two decades’ worth of car accidents and found that fatal accidents increase by 6 percent during the first week after the clocks move forward in spring, causing about 28 additional deaths per year. Meanwhile, researchers in cardiovascular medicine found a 24 percent increase in heart attacks on the Monday after daylight savings time began in the spring (as well as a 21 percent decrease in heart attacks on the Tuesday after DST ends each fall). (Reno Gazette Journal, February 10)
However, making each of them permanent would affect our lives. Under permanent DST, the sun would not rise in Northern Nevada until after 8 a.m. in December. In perpetual standard time, the sun would rise before 5 a.m. in the summer. Either scenario would create problems for many people.
As we prepare to lose an hour of sleep, Nevadans must consider whether the once-a-year sacrifice is worth it, or whether we want to choose a permanent time standard. In the meantime, get ready for spring ahead!
Jeanette Strong, whose column appears every other week, is an award-winning Nevada Press Association columnist. She can be reached at [email protected]