Daylight saving time remains unpopular, misunderstood
by Brian Anderson
banderson@annistonstar.com
Nov 03, 2013 | 4673 views |  0 comments | 47 47 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The clock on top of the Calhoun County Courthouse in Anniston.  Photo by Bill Wilson.
The clock on top of the Calhoun County Courthouse in Anniston. Photo by Bill Wilson.
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Regular listeners of the Rick and Bubba radio show know that the two Calhoun County natives and nationally syndicated radio hosts don’t think too highly of daylight saving time.

It’s become something of an annual obsession for the duo, who even dedicated a chapter in their book “Rick and Bubba for President” detailing how they’d outlaw the practice in an unlikely presidential term.

Rick and Bubba’s pleas for a nation without clock changing is clearly meant as tongue-in-cheek, but it’s not a laughing matter for some elected officials and health experts, who think the act of changing clocks, like most Americans will tonight after eight months of daylight saving time, is outdated, foolish and potentially dangerous.

Earlier this year, Florida state Sen. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, proposed a bill that would make daylight saving time the standard year-round in the Sunshine State, eliminating the traditional practice of “falling back” to standard time in October. The bill, called the Sunshine Protection Act, was meant as a way to increase tourism in the winter months.

That’s not the first time the suggestion has been made, according to Michael Downing, a creative writing professor at Tufts University.

“They tried this during World War II, and what would happen is, people wouldn’t change their clock in October, and then come March and April they get itchy fingers,” said Downing, who wrote the book “Spring Forward: The Annual Madness of Daylight Saving Time.”

“In Britain, they called this double daylight saving time, and it happened in cities all over America,” Downing said. “It sounds ridiculous, but people are accustomed to changing their clocks so they have more sunlight in summer.”

Downing said he isn’t surprised when he hears many Americans find the act of setting their clocks back confusing. It’s what led him to research his book in the first place.

“I found myself 40 years old and sticking my head in a clock in October and wondering what I was doing,” Downing said. “How odd is it that I do something twice a year and not even know why?”

While researching his book, Downing said, he learned a lot of misconceptions about the practice of daylight saving time, none more inaccurate than the myth that farmers are the reason we set our clocks back.

“They were actually the biggest lobbiers against the practice,” Downing said. “They were the reason Congress didn’t enact it until 1966.”

Jeff Helms, the communications director for the Alabama Farmers Federation, said the likely source of confusions about farmers’ role in preserving daylight saving time comes from the public school system, which still uses an outdated agricultural calendar to determine scheduling.

“Most farmers will tell you they work from sun-up to sundown,” Helms said. “It really doesn’t matter when the sunlight is available, that’s when they’ll work.”

Farmers aren’t alone in opposition to the practice. Many health and public safety organizations also say that changing clocks might have negative effects on society. A study conducted at the University of Alabama Birmingham in 2012 indicated heart attacks increase by 10 percent on the Monday and Tuesdays following daylight saving time’s clock change. Traffic accidents, another common area of study, also seem to increase on the same days, but a study in the 2004 Accident and Analysis Prevention journal estimated more than 360 accidents every year could be avoided if daylight saving time was permanent year-round.

But according to numbers collected by the Center for Advanced Public Safety at the University of Alabama, traffic crashes and fatalities don’t seem to have any set pattern for summer or winter months in Alabama. In 2012, while June had the least amount of traffic accidents for any month, it also had the highest number of fatalities. In 2011, January had the least amount of crashes.

“We haven’t done any specific studies about the time change,” said Rhonda Stricklin, the associate director at the center. “We can look at these numbers, but we can’t really analyze what they mean.”

Other experts have also questioned the long-held wisdom that daylight saving time saves energy. In a 2008 study for the National Bureau of Economic Research, Yale professor Matthew Kotchen found the increase of air conditioning rates in summer months negated any energy savings because of available daylight.

By contrast, the practice’s biggest supporters have always been the tourism and recreation industry, who champion that more daylight hours available at night is beneficial for the economy.

Or maybe, it doesn’t make much of a difference one way or the other.

“Personally, I don’t think it matters if there’s a little more dark or light,” said Ebonee Thompson, the marketing and tourism director for the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce. “People are still going to go see destinations.”

In any case it looks unlikely clock changing will go away anytime soon. Politicians in Montgomery seem uninterested in joining Arizona and Hawaii as the United States outliers when it comes to shunning the practice. The last time the federal government considered the issue of daylight saving time in 2005, it actually expanded the practice by a month starting in 2007 as part of U.S. Energy Policy Act.

“I think most Americans enjoy having more sunlight in the summer,” Downing said. “It’s just become something we expect to do.”

Staff writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @BAnderson_Star.

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