Questioning the Merits of DST

Most Canadians, excluding those in Saskatchewan, lost an hour of sleep this weekend because of Daylight Savings Time (DST), a practice endorsed by not only Canada, but in use by approximately 70 other countries. However, there is a lot of controversy over its continued use.

While researching the advantages and disadvantages of an added hour of evening daylight, I came across some very compelling reasons for continuing DST. Nevertheless, if it is beneficial to add an hour of light to the day in March, what is the point of switching clocks back in November?

DST was originally in the United States and Canada during the First World War in an attempt to save energy–by adding an extra hour of daylight, homes and businesses require less lighting. Some areas continued the practice after the war and those who stopped started again during the Second World War. Since the 1940s, DST has become commonplace in North America and Canada chose to mirror the annual start and end dates set in the United States for economic purposes In 2007, both countries adjusted the dates to the beginning of November and March, allowing for more of the year to be conducted in DST, as opposed to standard time. There are hopes that the change has helped voter turnout and reduced the accidents that occur on Halloween as children take part in trick-or-treating.

Arguably, DST is less advantageous than it was during the coal-burning era in the mid-20th century. Some argue that it is cost- (and savings-) neutral, while others believe that it has benefits. However, Britain’s success with the DST led it to implement “double summertime” during the Second World War, which meant that clocks were two hours ahead in the summer and one hour ahead throughout the winter. Supporters of DST have found several other positive effects resulting from the extra evening light, although much of the evidence is controversial.

DST supposedly increases economic productivity and recreational engagement, as well as lowering vehicle accidents and crime rates. Far fewer recreational activities take place in the morning and extending the daytime via DST allows people employed during the day (or those in school) to participate in the evening. Crimes tend to occur more often in the evening and overnight hours than in the morning, yet, they also occur considerably more often when it is dark. Accidents, especially those involving pedestrians, also occur more frequently in the dark. For instance, there are a greater number of individuals commuting in the evening than during earlier hours.

While these all sound like great reasons for DST, various reports suggest that it causes harm. First, switching the clocks forward or backward is confusing, which is especially problematic in the business world, considering the frequency of international communications in trading. Industries required to keep strict records of schedules run into trouble during the switch and it has even caused the recorded birth order of twins to be backward. Some studies also show a spike in accidents in the days following the jump forward due to sleep deprivation, in addition to darkened morning commutes. Adjusting to the new time could also significantly affect peoples’ learning abilities and productivity in the workplace, even if they show up on time. The majority of arguments against DST find faults resulting from the disruption caused by the initial change. There are a few groups opposed to the extended daylight, such as certain farmers and religious organizations, whose activities rely on early morning light.

Initially, I questioned having DST at all, however, I am now questioning whether switching between it and standard time is efficient. There needs to be proper data collected and made available to determine if DST or standard time is better for the economy and society–currently, opposing views rely largely on personal preferences and weak evidence. Preliminarily, however, the effort and confusion resulting from switching back and forth does not seem to benefit anyone.

Rachel Lowe is a 2013-2014 Atlantic Institute for Market Studies’ Student Fellow. The views expressed are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the Institute

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