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Daylight Saving Time - Overview

Date: January 1, 2001

Abstract: This article gives basic background and a brief history of Daylight Saving Time

Daylight Saving Time

Daylight Saving Time (not Daylight Savings Time) stands for "saving daylight" and its purpose is just that. Setting clocks ahead one hour increases the amount of daylight during the winter months and results in a reduction in the amount of electricity we use. Studies done by the U.S. Department of Transportation show that we trim the entire country's electricity usage by about one percent every day during Daylight Saving Time.

Daylight Saving Time begins (for most of the United States) at 2 a.m. on the first Sunday of April and reverts back to standard time at 2 a.m. on the last Sunday of October. Daylight Saving Time in the U.S. is not observed in Hawaii, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, the Eastern Time Zone portion of the State of Indiana, and by most of Arizona (with the exception of the Navajo Indian Reservation in Arizona).

When Daylight Savings Time is in effect, the time zone is, for example, Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) rather than Eastern Standard Time (EST).

The History of Daylight Saving Time

The theory behind setting clocks ahead one hour was that it provides more sunlight in the evening. Benjamin Franklin originated the idea in 1784 with his humorous essay called "Turkey versus Eagle, McCauley is my Beagle," as a means of saving candles. However, the concept of adding an hour to each day was not strongly supported.

In 1883 the railroad industry created time zones to standardize their schedules.

In 1918, Congress made the U.S. rail zones official under federal law and gave the responsibility to the Interstate Commerce Commission, the only federal transportation regulatory agency at the time.

During World War I, many European countries and the United States, concerned with saving fuel, mandated Daylight Saving Time. It only lasted seven months and proved to be unpopular in the United States and was repealed in 1919.

The United States resumed Daylight Saving Time during World War II. In fact, year round Daylight Saving Time was observed from February 2, 1942 through September 30, 1945.

From 1945 to 1966, there was no federal law concerning Daylight Saving Time. Each state and local municipalities were free to establish their own customs and standers. This caused confusion, especially for trains, buses, and broadcasting companies.

In 1966, Congress decided to end the confusion and establish one pattern across the country. They passed, and subsequently President Johnson signed, the Uniform Time Act of 1966 (15 U.S. Code Section 260a). Under the new Act, Daylight Saving Time began the last Sunday in April and ended the last Sunday in October. The law did not mandate the observance of Daylight Saving Time but rather if we were going to observe Daylight Saving Time, it must be done uniformly. That same year Congress created the Department of Transportation in 1966 and transferred the responsibility for the time laws to the DOT.

Following the 1973 Arab Oil Embargo, Congress enacted earlier starting dates for daylight time as an experiment to save energy costs. In 1974, daylight time began on 6 January and in 1975 it began on 23 February. After those two years the starting date reverted back to the last Sunday in April. The U.S. Department of Transportation studied the results of the experiment. It concluded:

Daylight Saving Time saves energy. Based on consumption figures for 1974 and 1975, The Department of Transportation says observing Daylight Saving Time in March and April saved the equivalent in energy of 10,000 barrels of oil each day -- a total of 600,000 barrels in each of those two years.

Daylight Saving Time saves lives and prevents traffic injuries. The earlier Daylight Saving Time allowed more people to travel home from work and school in daylight, which is much safer than darkness. And except for the months of November through February, Daylight Saving Time does not increase the morning hazard for those going to school and work.

Daylight Saving Time prevents crime. Because people get home from work and school and complete more errands and chores in daylight, Daylight Saving Time also seems to reduce people's exposure to various crimes, which are more common in darkness than in light.

The Department of Transportation estimated that 50 lives were saved and about 2,000 injuries were prevented in March and April of the study years. The department also estimated that $28 million was saved in traffic accident costs.

In 1986, President Ronald Reagan signed Public Law 99-359 which changed Daylight Saving Time from the last Sunday in April to the first Sunday in April. It is estimated that including the entire month of April saves 300,000 barrels of oil nationwide each year.

In 1997, US Rep. Bill McCollum (Fla.) introduced legislation that would have push forward the start of Daylight Savings Time to the first Sunday in March. The legislation did not pass.

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