Three-Minute Legal Tips: Daylight Saving Time
Each spring, every state but two "springs forward" from the dark winter into the brighter days of daylight saving time.
The switch has been in place since World War I, when European countries figured out they could save oil and energy by delaying the sunset. So, if daylight saving time is so beneficial, why doesn't everywhere have it year round?
For years, UW Law Professor Steve Calandrillo has been begging this very question. In three minutes, he shares insights into the practice's history and discusses the potentially major benefits a permanent switch could bring.
Read the Transcript
Steve Calandrillo: Hi, I'm Steve Calandrillo. I'm the Jeffrey and Susan Brotman Professor of Law at the University of Washington School of Law.
Three-Minute Legal Tips: Why was daylight saving time originally enacted?
SC: A lot of people think it's due to something about the farmers, but it really had nothing to do with the farmers. It has everything to do with oil and energy usage. Originally, it was Germany during World War I and then the rest of Europe that figured out that they could save oil and energy by going to Daylight Savings Time. Well, the reason that saves oil and energy is because everybody is awake and moving around at 5 p.m. or 6 p.m. whenever the sunset time would be and the longer you can keep the sunset from happening the more that sun is out in the evening the more that people can benefit from it. They don't need to use as much energy to heat their homes or as much electricity to light their homes, we can save energy, we can save oil.
TMLT: Who can authorize a permanent switch to daylight saving time?
SC: Only Congress under the Uniform Time Act can authorize permanent daylight saving time or allow a state to move to permanent daylight saving time. Before the Uniform Time Act was passed in 1966 by Congress each state, each city, was on its own system and that led to lots of confusion. Minneapolis, Minnesota had one clock. St. Paul, Minnesota had another clock. And you can imagine people are confused if they don't know what time of day it is five miles away across the river. Under the Uniform Time Act, Congress said if you want to adopt daylight saving time states you've got to do it on the same day in spring and you've got to roll off of it in the same day in fall.
TMLT: What are the pros and cons of a permanent switch?
SC: The reality is that darkness kills and sunshine saves. People are far more likely to die from darkness than they are when the sun is out. And darkness is twice as deadly in the evening hours as it is in the morning hours. A Rutgers meta study showed that by shifting sunlight from the morning into the evening we could save 343 lives per year and that was mostly from reduced traffic fatalities. Evening rush hour kills twice as many people as the morning rush hour. Now I would also like to add that some scholars have suggested that crime would decrease if we had Daylight Saving Time year round because again criminals like to work in darkness and they like to work in evening darkness. For whatever reason, criminals are late to bed and late to rise. The crime rates at 4 a.m. in the morning or 5 a.m. when it's still dark out are very, very low, but if you look at evening crime rates, 10 p.m., 11 p.m., even 5 p.m or 6 p.m., they are dramatically higher. The Department of Justice estimates 30 percent higher once evening darkness hits and so by moving sunlight from the morning into the evening you basically take away an hour of criminals' workday. Now, of course, you also have the argument that we would save energy and that argument is losing force over time as more of our energy usage goes to air conditioning our homes instead of heating our homes. And then the last argument I think in favor of permanent daylight saving time, the most important argument there is, just to avoid the biannual clock switch. The twice yearly clock switches are not good for our health, not good for our circadian rhythms, not good for our sleep patterns. Car accidents go up after each clock switch. Heart attack risks go up after each clock switch. Stock markets decline on the Monday after each clock switch. You want to avoid switching our clocks twice a year.
TMLT: Why is Congress hesitant to make the switch?
SC: Congress is preoccupied by other things, most notably last year we've been preoccupied by COVID. And also hyper partisanship fighting between democrats and republicans. But, I will say this is an issue that is the last non-partisan topic, I think, in America, Both republicans and democrats agree. We have senators like our own Patty Murray in agreement with Florida's Marco Rubio on the need for permanent Daylight Saving Time. So, if there's anything that could unite Congress, I think it could be permanent Daylight Saving Time.