But what if we advanced the clocks this weekend and never had to turn them back? The idea is gaining some traction after a bipartisan group of U.S. senators this week reintroduced a bill that would eliminate standard time and keep daylight saving time year-round.
The Sunshine Protection Act, proposed by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), along with four Republican and three Democratic senators, says we should ditch standard time since we only use it four months of the year, from November to March. “The call to end the antiquated practice of clock changing is gaining momentum throughout the nation,” Rubio said in a statement.
Florida’s state legislature passed its own version of the bill in 2018, as have 15 other states, including California, Oregon, Tennessee and Maine. Individual states, however, aren’t permitted to change their DST schedules without federal approval from the Department of Transportation, which means an act of Congress would be required.
The United States first introduced daylight saving time in 1918, two years after Germany and other European countries started advancing the clocks to conserve fuel and energy during World War I. Congress abolished the practice after the war, and it was not used again nationwide until President Franklin D. Roosevelt introduced year-round DST during World War II from 1942 to 1945.
The United States also experimented with year-round DST during the 1970s energy crisis, from January 1974 to October 1975. The dark winter mornings were not too popular, however, and ever since, we’ve switched the clocks back to standard time during the winter months.
Since 2007, DST has begun on the second Sunday in March and ended on the first Sunday in November. Hawaii and Arizona are the only two states that do not observe daylight saving time.
Critics of our current DST schedule argue that changing the clocks twice a year disrupts sleep schedules, increases car accidents as well as the risk of heart attacks, seasonal depression and other health issues. Using DST year-round, as Rubio and others are advocating, would improve our society’s health, as we wouldn’t have to adjust our clocks and sleep schedules. More evening light during the winter months would also give people extra time to exercise outdoors after work, as well as benefit the economy.
“Springing forward and falling back year after year only creates unnecessary confusion while harming Americans’ health and our economy. Making Daylight Saving permanent would give folks an hour back of sunshine during the winter months when we need it most,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said in a statement.
The year-round DST proposal seems to have gained traction after Americans endured an especially long, dark winter marked by the coronavirus pandemic. “In a year that feels like it’s been in complete darkness, Senator Rubio and I have provided a solution to provide more sunlight by making Daylight Saving Time permanent,” Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said about the bill.
The only problem is that making daylight saving time permanent doesn’t actually provide more sunlight (a summary of the legislation wisely makes this disclaimer). Because of the Earth’s tilt, the sun spends less time above the horizon during winter, which means we have shorter daylight hours. Year-round DST would only shift daylight from the morning to the evening, meaning the sun would rise and set an hour later than we’re used to from November to March.
For example, Washington, D.C., would see its earliest sunset at 5:45 p.m. (instead of 4:45 p.m.) in December, and the latest sunrise would shift to 8:27 a.m. (instead of 7:27 a.m.) in early January, according to timeanddate.com.
Across most of the Lower 48 states — including the District — those early winter sunsets before 5 p.m. would become a thing of the past. The drawback is that mornings would be noticeably darker from November to March. In the District, sunrise under a year-round DST schedule would occur after 8 a.m. from Nov. 24 to Feb. 14. Cities on the western edges of their respective zones, such as Indianapolis and Detroit, would not see sunrise until after 9 a.m. in December and January.
Many parents and teachers oppose the idea of darker winter mornings, which could put children’s safety at risk. When year-round DST was last used in the 1970s, many Americans criticized sending kids to school in the dark.
Of course, many northern states like North Dakota or Michigan already put up with late post-8 a.m. winter sunrises even during standard time. In places like Fairbanks, Alaska, the sun doesn’t rise until nearly 11 a.m. in December, yet residents there still manage to trek to school and work in the dark.