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Daylight Saving Time: Proving P. T. Barnum right again

Well, it's spring time again and my personal regards go out to the mayor and the people of Pickle Lake who have refused to knuckle under to the decades-long boondoggle known as "Daylight Saving Time." Part of my childhood was spent in Windsor, Ontario, where we never bothered with such nonsense (and the only spot in Canada where the States is actually north of us, so we could blame the cold north winds of winter on them), and I have never been able to discover what the purpose of this exercise is. According to the Daylight Saving Time section of "WebExhibits," the primary purpose is to save energy by having more daylight in the evening, thereby cutting down on the number of hours we need to turn on lights and such. Fair enough, and according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, this practice "trims the entire country's electricity usage by a significant, but small amount, of less than one percent each day." But in that case, why don't we do it in the winter time when energy consumption is at an all time high, and the evenings are even shorter?

And are we really saving energy in the first place? Perhaps we're saving a bit of electrical energy, but we're sure adding to our personal burden. In the Sunday New York Times Magazine of April 7, 1996, James Gleick published an article titled "Manual Labor" bemoaning the effort required to change each and every one of our numerous timekeepers twice a year. These include ovens (both conventional and microwave), TVs, stereos, VCRs, computers, pagers, and photocopiers among others.

Another common claim is that DST makes it safer for people to be out and about in the evening because the daylight lasts longer. But once again, wouldn't it make more sense to do this in the winter? The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration of the United States DoT issued a special report on (get this) "Making Daylight Savings Time Safe for Kids." "Over half of all pedestrian fatalities and over one fourth of bicyclist fatalities of school age children (ages 5 through 18) occur in low light or dark conditions." And of course, the problem, as they point out, is that as the days begin to shorten, we suddenly shift from DST to Standard Time thereby sending kids home from school in low-light conditions. In a study of traffic accidents throughout Canada in 1991 and 1992, Stanley Coren of the University of British Columbia discovered that there was an eight percent jump in traffic accidents on the Monday after clocks are moved ahead.

Oh, and let's not forget the farmers. Whenever I've asked people why we switch to DST every year, the most common answer is that it helps the farmers. Farmers? How exactly did this bit of folklore get started? Farmers wake to the sun regardless of the time of day, and cows sure wouldn't appreciate waiting an extra hour every fall to get milked. Moreover, wherever there is opposition to the practice, it generally comes from the farmers.

One interesting proposal is not to discontinue DST, but rather to extend it throughout the entire year. The American Journal of Public Health published a report showing the dramatic increase in pedestrian fatal crashes following the change to Standard Time between 1987 to 1991. In fact, there have already been two years in which DST was extended in the States far beyond it's normal span. It lasted for ten months in 1974 and eight months in 1975 in an attempt to save energy during the OPEC oil embargo. And it worked, not only for energy saving (which would be expected since the extra hour of daylight was extended into the winter where it would do the most good, but also cut down dramatically on traffic fatalities. So why didn't they continue the experiment? Because of opposition led mostly by ... uh, the farmers. (Remember them? The ones everyone thinks we're doing all this for?)

On the other hand, perhaps everything we've been told about DST is a lie. On the Car Talk site, where the discussions occasionally stray far beyond automotive concerns, a Mr. John Young (an identity he assures us is false in order that he may safely reveal the truth) suggests what may be the real, and disturbing truth behind the whole DST fiasco in a letter called "The Truth Behind Why We Save That Hour":

Few people know the real reason we are saving these daylight hours. I have given a false identity here so that I may safely reveal the secret: We are saving hours of daylight in anticipation of the impending burnout of the sun. Current estimates are that we have only 5 billion years of sunlight left.

By saving up daylight from now until then, we should have amassed approximately 45 additional minutes for my brother and all of the other poor schmucks who suffer from Perpetual Lateness Disorder to finish packing and get into the evacuation spaceship. This daylight saving time program was invented in 1642 by the International Brotherhood of the Perpetually Late. The fact that daylight saving time was not adopted nationally until the early 1970s should add credence to the verity of this disclosure.

As someone once said, "The truth is out there."

If you're interested in finding out more about Daylight Saving Time, here are a few sites:

WebExhibits' Daylight Saving Time. Learn about its history, rationale and various changes and irregularities.

End Daylight Saving Time. An intelligent rant by someone trying to Stop the Madness.

An Economical Project. Excerpts from Benjamin Franklin's original essay. Actually, old Ben never really meant it seriously.

The Costs Outweigh the Benefits. An examination of the many costs of DST.

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