Mudsock Heights

Mudsock Heights

Sunset -- here seen from Captiva Island, Florida -- is too nice to consign to med-afternoon.

Let's Pick a Time, Then Keep It

By Dennis E. Powell | Posted at 7:14 PM
Remind me: Why do we arbitrarily change the time twice a year?

There must be a very important reason, because it’s a deadly thing to do. But that reason is not apparent, and I more and more think that it doesn’t exist at all.

We’re a little over two weeks from the annual “fall back” exercise — setting the clocks back an hour, at 2 a.m. local time November 7 — that yes, for that night gives us an extra hour’s sleep (the hour will get reclaimed with March 13th’s “spring forward” exercise, which will also be costly and pointless).

Longtime readers will know that I’ve been campaigning for the abolition of daylight saving time for years now. My reasons are simple: daylight saving time does no good; it doesn’t even save any daylight. But it does a great deal of harm. (The lone discernible effect of my little campaign is to help me identify people who actually believe that the sun can be made to stay up an hour longer through act of Congress. Some of those persons need to be institutionalized, and it’s my firm hope that they will be once they leave office.)

Depression is one of the ways that changing the clocks harms us. As the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine puts it, “An abundance of accumulated evidence indicates that the acute transition from standard time to daylight saving time incurs significant public health and safety risks, including increased risk of adverse cardiovascular events, mood disorders, and motor vehicle crashes. It is, therefore, the position of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine that these seasonal time changes should be abolished in favor of a fixed, national, year-round standard time.”

It seems to me that now is the time to do it, to make one time or the other, “standard” or “daylight saving” time, our year-round choice. There’s a reasonable argument that we already have enough on the national plate and needn’t entertain anything more, but that reasoning has more to do with making the decision than it does with carrying it out: choosing a permanent time standard would require us to do nothing. We’d either go back to standard time at 2 a.m. Nov. 7, as we’d do anyway, or we wouldn’t.

We’re in midst of conditions that are just right for making a change. Many people’s working conditions (well, the ones who are working) are already disrupted. Skipping the time change would make life less complicated. (Though I do worry: the current administration — motto: “Do what we say poorly, not what we do poorly” — would biden it up, make the change cost trillions of dollars, involve commissions and the creation of a new cabinet-level agency, and move to some time standard perhaps suggested by the doddering president’s imaginary friend Cornpop.)

There are important reasons to pick a time and stick to it, not the least being that the time switch kills people. This isn’t a joke. Suicide rates — abnormally high the last two years for reasons familiar to us all — increase with the autumnal arrival of standard time, which brings the already-early darkness upon us an hour sooner. The number of traffic deaths attributable to the time change is in the neighborhood of 350 each year.

Heart attacks increase by up to 25 percent, as do strokes, which together are good for another 600 or so deaths each year. Workplace accidents go up by about 6 percent, killing even more people.

The standard study on the subject, conducted by the University of Alabama in 2012, found a 10-24 percent increase in heart attacks; more recent research put the increase at 25 percent. Analysis done in Sweden found that the increased likelihood of a heart attack lasts for several days after the switch. Each day about 1,370 people in the U.S. die of heart attacks, so daylight saving time is good for at least 137 heart attack deaths and maybe as many as 343 each year on daylight saving time day alone, and more on subsequent days according to the Swedish study. The likelihood of one getting a stroke increases by 8 to 25 percent due to the time change.

There’s also a jump in accidents the Monday after daylight saving time kicks in. A 1999 analysis of 21 years of car crash data determined that on average an increase of five deaths in car wrecks occurred nationwide on that day. A 2016 study put the number higher, at 30 deaths. Research published in 2009 found a 5.7 percent increase in workplace accidents on daylight saving Monday, and that those accidents tended to be far more severe than usual.

It is also claimed that daylight saving time makes sure that kids waiting for the bus or walking to school are safer, but no, that’s not true, either. What would save lives would be year-round daylight saving time, simply moving the clock ahead an hour and leaving it there. That, analysis tells us, would save 171 pedestrians and 195 vehicle occupants each year.

We do not, the AASM noted, get a good night’s sleep when we change the time twice each year. The AASM endorses the idea of year-round standard time rather than year-round daylight saving time.

“There is ample evidence of the negative, short-term consequences of the annual change to daylight saving time in the spring,” said AASM President Dr. Kannan Ramar in a news release from the organization last year. “Because the adoption of permanent standard time would be beneficial for public health and safety, the AASM will be advocating at the federal level for this legislative change.”

Each time shift, the “spring forward” and “fall back,” brings its own hazards — all of which are entirely unnecessary. The spring change results in sleepy, error-prone people — an 18 percent increase in what researchers call “patient safety-related adverse events following the time change in both spring and fall.” The autumnal change causes disorientation and depression. In both cases it is the change itself that kills people, thousands of people.

There’s more. The semi-annual time changes cost on average a half-billion dollars. (I know — with the amounts of money that we don’t have but that are being flung around anyway, a mere \$500,000,000 seems piddling. Still, given the choice between 500 million dollars and daylight saving time, I bet you would choose the money.)

Changing the time back and forth costs lives and treasure. No one doubts that. But for what? What do we gain?

The campaign after World War I for daylight saving time was led by the golfing industry. It was taken seriously only when militant golfers — who tend to be in the ruling class — wanted an extra hour on the links after work.

It was vigorously opposed by farmers, whose schedule is set by the rising and setting of the sun and not by the whims of wealthy sportsmen. (There are people who believe that daylight saving time actually increases the amount of sunlight each day, which is risible. All it does is change what time we think it is.)

When Congress decreed national daylight saving time in 1966, the claim was that it would reduce our energy use, but the findings of studies since then have disputed this. In fact, it may be that it causes us to use more energy, with our being home and turning on the air conditioning an hour earlier, in the heat of the day.

It was proposed by others as well: the entomologist George Hudson argued for it because it would give him extra time each day to catch bugs. (He actually proposed a two-hour time jump.) It’s said that Benjamin Franklin thought up daylight saving time in 1784, but he was making a joke at the expense of the French aristocracy. The first real campaign for daylight saving time came during pre-air-conditioning World War I, when there still was a slight possibility that it might save fuel.

Most of us aren’t golfers or insect chasers or taunters of the French (well, at least not golfers or insect chasers). Which is why more than two thirds of us do not want the time changes. An Associated Press — NORC survey in October 2019 found that 71 percent of Americans want us to pick one time or the other, then stay there. (All-year standard time was favored by 40 percent, 31 percent wanted year-round daylight saving time, and only 28 percent thought switching back and forth is a good idea.

The switch to daylight saving time and back costs more lives annually than the total number of people, of all races, armed and unarmed, killed by police officers each year. It’s a fact.

And deaths caused by the time change could be prevented by the stroke of a pen. There’s no vast societal change required. No need to burn golf courses or fields that harbor insects or places where French aristocrats, if you can find any, do business. We’ve seen a country in uproar supposedly over loss of life, yet when a greater loss of life could be prevented by doing essentially nothing, we don’t.

I’m not kidding here. If lives are important, why don’t we think about and save the ones whose redemption could be brought about easily? The change required is so insignificant that most people wouldn’t notice it at all; to the extent it would be remarked upon, it would go something like this: “When is the time change?” “We’re not doing that anymore.” “Oh.”

We already have more on our plates than we’re used to. Eliminating the artificial and stupid manipulation of our measurement of time would simplify things in a non-trivial way.

It would save lives, at no cost, and that would be a bargain.

Dennis E. Powell is crackpot-at-large at Open for Business. Powell was a reporter in New York and elsewhere before moving to Ohio, where he has (mostly) recovered. You can reach him at dep@drippingwithirony.com.

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Re: Let's Pick a Time, Then Keep It
I've never liked the days around changing times, but like the overall switch "aesthetically" because I prefer long winter nights and long summer evenings. I'm weird like that. But, it certainly isn't worth bringing harm to people even if I do like it. I wonder: does the November switch "create" depression that wouldn't exist because of how dramatic the change is or does it "concentrate" what would show up during the darker times of the year anyway into a particular moment since there's a dramatic shift (i.e. is it the equivalent of ripping a bandage off versus something that would otherwise gradually show up as the days grew darker)?
Posted by Timothy Butler - Oct 21, 2021 | 11:21 AM

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