Illustration by Serge Seidlitz

STANDARDS

Common Core: RH.6-8.1, RH.6-8.2, RH.6-8.3, RH.6-8.4, RH.6-8.7, WHST.6-8.1, WHST.6-8.4, WHST.6-8.9, RI.6-8.1, RI.6-8.3, RI.6-8.8, RI.6-8.10, SL.6-8.1

NCSS: Time, Continuity, and Change • Production, Distribution, and Consumption • Global Connections

SPOTLIGHT

The End of Daylight Saving Time?

Around the world, most countries don’t switch back and forth between standard time and daylight saving time. Should the U.S. do the same? 

As You Read, Think About: What are the advantages and disadvantages of daylight saving time?

On November 3, millions of Americans will take part in a familiar (and sometimes annoying) ritual: resetting their clocks. Each March, most states “spring ahead” one hour to daylight saving time (DST). Then, mid-autumn, they “fall back” to standard time.*

But increasingly, many Americans are opposing the practice. They say the twice-yearly switch causes confusion and has few benefits.

Similar grumbling can be heard in many places around the world. About 70 countries currently observe DST. But most others stick with one time year-round. And soon even more nations may be doing the same. 

Last March, the European Union (E.U.) voted to end the time switch by 2021. Officials of the 28-nation alliance† want each member country to choose between standard time or DST—and stick with it. They agree that switching back and forth causes more trouble than it is worth.

Making this work won’t be easy. Countries that keep the same time today may make different choices and so be off by an hour in the future. Coordinating airline schedules will be a headache. And the complex puzzle of the world’s time zones will become even more puzzling (see map, below).

Meanwhile, in the U.S., dozens of states are currently considering proposals to stop the switch as well. Soon, the U.S. time zone map could be seeing some complicated changes of its own.

On November 3, millions of Americans will take part in a familiar and sometimes annoying ritual. They will reset their clocks. Each March, most states “spring ahead” one hour to daylight saving time (DST). In mid-autumn, they “fall back” to standard time.*

A growing number of Americans are now against the practice. They say the twice-yearly switch causes confusion and has few benefits.

Similar complaints can be heard in many places around the world. About 70 countries now observe DST. But most others stick with one time year-round. And soon even more nations may be doing the same. 

The European Union (E.U.) met last March. It voted to end the time switch by 2021. Officials of the 28-nation group† want each member country to choose between standard time or DST. They also want countries to stick with their choice. E.U. officials agree that switching back and forth causes more trouble than it is worth.

Making this work will not be easy. Countries that keep the same time today may make different choices. That would make them off by an hour in the future. Making airline schedules work will be tough. And the complex puzzle of the world’s time zones will become even more puzzling (see map, below).

Meanwhile, dozens of U.S. states are considering proposals to stop the switch as well. Soon, the U.S. time zone map could be seeing its own complicated changes.

*Hawaii and most of Arizona do not observe DST.

†The U.K. was scheduled to leave the E.U. on October 31, after this issue went to press. The U.K. has said it will keep changing to and from DST.

*Hawaii and most of Arizona do not observe DST.

†The U.K. was scheduled to leave the E.U. on October 31, after this issue went to press. The U.K. has said it will keep changing to and from DST.

Birth of the Time Zone

For most of history, individual cities and villages set their own clocks. It could be 1 p.m. in your town and 1:15 p.m. just a few towns away. But in the late 19th century, railroads made rapid travel between distant places a new reality. Now people needed to agree on exactly what time the trains would depart and arrive to avoid confusing passengers and operators.

For most of history, individual cities and villages set their own clocks. It could be 1 p.m. in your town and 1:15 p.m. just a few towns away. But in the late 19th century, the growth of railroads brought change. Trains made rapid travel between distant places a new reality. Now people needed to agree on exactly what time the trains would depart and arrive to avoid confusing passengers and operators.

The number of nations that stay on just one time year-round may soon be growing.

In 1884, representatives from 25 countries met in Washington, D.C., to create a worldwide system of 24 time zones—one for each hour of the day. During World War I (1914-1918), multiple countries, including the U.S., adopted DST. This meant the sun would set later in the day during summer. Officials believed that people would need less electricity in the evening when it was still light out, reducing the use of fuel in wartime.

In the U.S., a 1966 federal law standardized when states would make the spring and fall time changes. But the law does not require states to adopt DST. And it does little to settle an argument that Americans have been having for years about resetting the clocks.

In 1884, representatives from 25 countries met in Washington, D.C. They created a worldwide system of 24 time zones—one for each hour of the day. During World War I (1914-1918), a number of countries, including the U.S., adopted DST. This meant the sun would set later in the day during summer. Officials believed that people would need less electricity in the evening when it was still light out. That would reduce the use of fuel in wartime.

In the U.S., a 1966 federal law set a standard for when states would make the spring and fall time changes. But the law does not require states to adopt DST. It also does little to settle an argument that Americans have been having for years about resetting the clocks.

The Problem With Change

So, what’s the problem with switching time? For one thing, there is little evidence that DST actually saves energy. Also, some studies report that losing an hour of sleep in the spring, when the clocks are moved ahead to DST, leads to increased numbers of workplace injuries, traffic accidents, and even heart attacks.

U.S. state legislatures are considering different alternatives to changing the clocks twice a year. Oklahoma and Texas are studying bills that would keep their states on standard time year-round. Florida has voted to permanently adopt DST. (Current U.S. law doesn’t allow states to stay on DST during the winter. But a bipartisan bill being discussed in Congress called the Sunshine Protection Act seeks to change that.)

So, what is the problem with switching time? For one thing, there is little evidence that DST actually saves energy. Also, some studies report that losing an hour of sleep in the spring, when the clocks are moved ahead to DST, is not helpful. It leads to increased numbers of workplace injuries, traffic accidents, and even heart attacks.

U.S. state legislatures are looking at different ideas for changing the clocks twice a year. Oklahoma and Texas are studying bills that would keep their states on standard time year-round. Florida has voted to permanently adopt DST. (Current U.S. law does not allow states to stay on DST during the winter. But a bipartisan bill being discussed in Congress seeks to change that. It is called the Sunshine Protection Act.)

To Switch or Not to Switch?

Permanent DST may seem like an extreme idea. But it’s been done before, says David Prerau, who has written a book on the history of DST. This happened in the 1940s while the U.S. was fighting in World War II (1939-1945)—again, to save energy in wartime. Then in early 1974, during a worldwide shortage of oil, the U.S. tried permanent DST again. The trouble, says Prerau, was that “in many parts of the country, people had to go to work and send kids to school in the dark during winter.” So after less than a year, following widespread complaints, year-round DST was scrapped.

Prerau favors keeping the current system of eight months of DST and four of standard time. That way, Americans have an extra hour of summer daylight, which most like, and don’t have to get up when it’s dark during the winter. “You can always tweak it, but I think the current length is a good compromise,” he says.

Permanent DST may seem like an extreme idea. But it has been done before, says David Prerau. He has written a book on the history of DST. Permanent DST was in effect in the 1940s, while the U.S. was fighting in World War II (1939-1945), to save energy in wartime. Then, in early 1974, there was a worldwide shortage of oil. That led the U.S. to try permanent DST again. The trouble was that “in many parts of the country, people had to go to work and send kids to school in the dark during winter,” says Prerau. There were many complaints. So after less than a year, year-round DST was scrapped.

Prerau favors keeping the current system. That is eight months of DST and four months of standard time. That way, Americans have an extra hour of summer daylight, which most like. Also, they do not have to get up when it is dark during the winter. “You can always tweak it, but I think the current length is a good compromise,” he says.

Write About It! Should the U.S. switch to permanent DST, use standard time year-round, or keep the current system of changing back and forth? Include evidence from the article and examples from your life to support your claim.

The World’s Time Zones

This map shows the world’s 24 standard time zones. Its center point is at the 0° line of longitude, the prime meridian, which runs through London, United Kingdom. Standard time—called Universal Coordinated Time (UTC)—is measured in hours before or after that. The bar above the map shows the time in each zone when it’s noon in London. The bottom bar shows how many hours to add or subtract from UTC to calculate the time. The day changes when you cross the international date line (180° longitude).

This map shows the world’s 24 standard time zones. Its center point is at the 0° line of longitude, the prime meridian, which runs through London, United Kingdom. Standard time—called Universal Coordinated Time (UTC)—is measured in hours before or after that. The bar above the map shows the time in each zone when it’s noon in London. The bottom bar shows how many hours to add or subtract from UTC to calculate the time. The day changes when you cross the international date line (180° longitude).

Jim McMahon/Mapman®

MAP SKILLS

1. The prime meridian passes through which major city?

2. How many time zones does Australia have?

3. When it’s 5 p.m. in New York City, what time is it in Anchorage, Alaska?

4. When it’s midnight in Cairo, Egypt, what time is it in Iran?

5. Which labeled city is two hours ahead of Berlin, Germany?

6. If you were to fly from Berlin to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, how many hours would you set your watch back?

7. If you live in Los Angeles, California, at what time should you tune in to a soccer match starting at 4 p.m. in London?

8. Which city labeled on the map is one hour behind Chicago?

9. What time is it in China when it’s 10 a.m. in India?

10. What part of Canada is a half hour earlier than most of Greenland? What time is it there when it’s noon in Puerto Rico?

1. The prime meridian passes through which major city?

2. How many time zones does Australia have?

3. When it’s 5 p.m. in New York City, what time is it in Anchorage, Alaska?

4. When it’s midnight in Cairo, Egypt, what time is it in Iran?

5. Which labeled city is two hours ahead of Berlin, Germany?

6. If you were to fly from Berlin to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, how many hours would you set your watch back?

7. If you live in Los Angeles, California, at what time should you tune in to a soccer match starting at 4 p.m. in London?

8. Which city labeled on the map is one hour behind Chicago?

9. What time is it in China when it’s 10 a.m. in India?

10. What part of Canada is a half hour earlier than most of Greenland? What time is it there when it’s noon in Puerto Rico?

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