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Spring Forward Faster


Published: March 31, 2005

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John Fulbrook

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Brookline, Mass.

AS we once again "spring forward" and turn our clocks ahead on Sunday, the start of daylight saving time, there's no better time to think about giving ourselves more daylight every year. Extending daylight time would give us considerable energy savings in an era of record oil prices, as well as many other benefits.

Daylight saving time, of course, has its roots in conservation: Benjamin Franklin suggested it as a way to save on candles, and it was used in both world wars to save energy for the military effort. By 1966, most areas of the country had permanently adopted it, and Congress standardized the daylight time period to run from the last Sunday in April to the last Sunday in October. Twenty years later, Congress moved the starting date to the first Sunday in April.

Studies in many countries have found that daylight saving time curbs energy consumption and reduces traffic fatalities. While I was a researcher at the Transportation Department in the 1970's, we did a study that found that under daylight time in spring and fall, electrical energy use fell by about 1 percent, the equivalent today of roughly three billion kilowatt-hours per month, while the reduction in traffic accidents saved 25 lives and averted 1,000 injuries each month. Crime also decreased.

These results derive directly from the shift of daylight from morning to evening. For example, many people sleep through morning sunlight and then depend on electric lighting after the sun sets. Even taking commuters into account, far more people travel in the evening than in the morning, and this, when combined with poor visibility, leads to more traffic accidents. And more crimes in which darkness is a factor, like muggings, take place after dusk than before dawn.

Under the present law we have daylight time in October but not in March, even though the sun rises at similar times in both months. The European Union starts daylight time on the last Sunday in March, with few complaints. Adding one spring week of daylight time would synchronize us with Europe. Adding two weeks in the spring would double the benefit while not making a single sunrise later than those we already experience in October, thus reducing concerns about dark mornings for farmers and children heading for school.

We should also consider adding a week of daylight time in the fall. Daylight time now always ends just before Halloween - sometimes, as last year, on Halloween morning. Alarmingly, children's pedestrian deaths are four times higher on Halloween than on any other night of the year, and daylight time would provide another hour of light for young trick-or-treaters.

Today, daylight saving time has been adopted by more than one billion people in about 70 countries. At a time when energy conservation is increasingly important and oil prices are skyrocketing, additional daylight time in the United States can save us energy while also preventing traffic accidents, cutting crime, helping trick-or-treaters safely across the street, and providing millions of gardeners, softball players and backyard barbecuers an additional hour in the sun.

David Prerau is the author of "Seize the Daylight: The Curious and Contentious Story of Daylight Saving Time."

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