Magazine article New York Times Upfront

The Battle over Daylight Saving Time: Arguments over Springing Forward and Falling Back Have Been Heating Up in State Legislatures

Magazine article New York Times Upfront

The Battle over Daylight Saving Time: Arguments over Springing Forward and Falling Back Have Been Heating Up in State Legislatures

Article excerpt

On March 13, clocks in most of the United States moved forward one hour to mark the beginning of daylight saving time. But lawmakers in many states are trying to do away with the ritual that so many people find annoying.

For the past century, most Americans have been dutifully moving their clocks ahead an hour in the spring and back an hour in the fall. In the past year, however, at least 23 states have considered bills aimed at changing that. States are free to debate the issue because the federal government doesn't require them to follow daylight saving time. Some of the bills seek to end daylight saving time; others propose making it last year-round.

Such measures reflect the sentiments of many Americans who suggest in surveys that we simply pick a time and stick with it. Most of the nation currently observes daylight saving time. The only states that don't are Hawaii and almost all of Arizona (see map, facing page).

There are a number of reasons why some states might not want to "spring forward" and "fall back" every year. But each option for ending or keeping daylight saving time raises a new set of potential problems and confusion.

The idea of daylight saving time was first conceived by Benjamin Franklin in the late 1700s. In the U.S., it was adopted in 1918 as a way to save energy (see "A Brief History of Time"). Lawmakers thought an extra hour of afternoon daylight would reduce electricity use. But since the time change creates an extra hour of morning darkness, critics have long argued that it simply shifts energy use to a different time of day.

A 'Bothersome Task'?

The recent increase in opposition to switching the clocks has been sparked by a growing resistance to government interference in our lives, says Michael Downing, a Tufts University professor and author of Spring Forward: The Annual Madness of Daylight Saving Time. Many Americans, he told National Geographic, just want to stop "the government from forcing us to do this bothersome task twice a year."

The other major criticism of daylight saving time is that "the time change back and forth messes with people's circadian rhythms,* " says Jim Reed, who follows the issue for the National Conference of State Legislatures, in Denver, Colorado.

A number of studies have found that losing an hour in the spring causes many Americans to lose sleep and the number of workplace injuries to increase; at least one study links loss of sleep to heart attacks.

Six Tries in Alaska

Proposals to end daylight saving time are nothing new, but are usually unsuccessful. Alaska lawmakers, for example, are considering such a bill, but five previous attempts to get rid of daylight saving time in the state, dating back to 1999, have failed. …

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