A Stitch in Time?

November 5, 2007 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - Even though your weekend was an hour longer than "normal", it may not feel like it.

And if you’re wondering why we put ourselves through this – well, it could be worse.

Daylight Saving Time (DST) was not formally adopted in the U.S. until 1918, as part of the establishment of standard time zones. DST was observed for seven months in 1918 and 1919, but after World War I ended, the law proved so unpopular (mostly because people rose earlier and went to bed earlier than today), it was repealed in 1919 with a Congressional override of President Woodrow Wilson’s veto. Daylight Saving Time – note that it is not savings time – became a local option.

“Watch” Words

Purists will (perhaps) appreciate that clocks technically “fall” back from 2:59 a.m. to 2:00 a.m. on the appointed day. In the United States that was originally chosen as the changeover time because it was practical and minimized disruption. After all, most people were at home (the ones who care about sleeping, anyway) – and that also happens to be the time when the fewest trains were running (more on that in a minute). It is late enough to prevent the day you are “in” to switching to yesterday (when time “falls back” in the fall), and early enough that the entire continental U.S. switches by daybreak.

As disruptive as the shift can be, it used to be worse. Consider that prior to 1966, each U.S. locality could start and end Daylight Saving Time however it wanted. One year, 23 different pairs of DST start and end dates were used in Iowa alone! And, for exactly five weeks each year, Boston, New York, and Philadelphia were not on the same time as Washington D.C., Cleveland, or Baltimore – though Chicago was. There was one 35 mile long bus route that ran from Ohio to West Virginia – and during that trip, passengers who wanted to keep their timepieces current had to change them seven times!

Observe Actions

The Uniform Time Act of 1966 put an end to that chaos, though interestingly enough, it does not require that Daylight Saving Time be observed – it just requires that if DST is observed, it must be done uniformly (and, at that time it called for it to begin on the last Sunday of April and run till the last Sunday of October – that was changed in 1986 to begin DST on the first Sunday in April. That month’s extension saved the U.S. an estimated 300,000 barrels of oil each year). There are places in the U.S. or its territories where DST is not observed; Hawaii, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Arizona. However, the Navajo Nation participates in the Daylight Saving Time policy, even in Arizona, due to its large size and location in three states. Indiana, which for years observed DST in only part of the state (the state’s two western corners, which fall in the Central Time Zone), passed a law in 2005 that implemented DST statewide, effective last year.

Finally, as for those trains. To keep to their published timetables, trains cannot leave a station before the scheduled time. So, when the clocks fall back one hour, all Amtrak trains in the U.S. that are running on time stop at 2:00 a.m. and wait one hour before resuming (overnight passengers are often surprised to find their train at a dead stop and their travel time an hour longer than expected). As for what will happen Sunday morning, those trains instantaneously become an hour behind schedule at 2:00 a.m. – but they just keep going and do their best to make up the time.

Keeping Up

If you’re wondering what the right time is today – it’s online at http://www.time.gov./

As for that next DST change. The schedule is online at http://webexhibits.org/daylightsaving/b.html

For those of you who have dealings outside the United States, you may find the following helpful: http://webexhibits.org/daylightsaving/g.html