“An Act to save daylight and to provide standard time for the United States.”
— Standard Time Act, approved March 19, 1918.
In a few days, millions of Americans will go through an annual ritual most of us would love to skip – losing an hour of sleep. The history of this masochistic ritual goes back many years. The history of measuring time goes even farther back.
For millennia, people used sundials to measure time, based on the position of the sun. When the sun was directly overhead, it was noon. Various types of clocks were devised as civilization advanced, but the sun remained the standard timekeeper.
In the Middle Ages, mechanical clocks were invented, and days were divided into hours, minutes, and seconds. Every town and city set its clocks by the sun, so noon was always 12 p.m. local time. Because most travel was relatively slow, this didn't present too many problems; people would just reset their clocks or watches at their new destination.
However, when the railroad came into being and travel covered more ground quickly, the differences in time in various areas became a big problem. In 1840, England set a standard time for the whole country so the railroads would have consistent time tables. By 1880, this “standard time” became the law in England.
The U.S. and Canada followed suit. On Nov. 18, 1883, the railroads officially created four time zones across the continent, with consistent time across each zone. This simplified scheduling and made travel and commerce much more efficient. These time zones were ultimately approved nationally.
During World War I, several countries, including parts of the U.S., adopted the idea of daylight saving time. In 1918, the U.S. Congress passed the Standard Time Act, making daylight saving time official. However, each state could determine when, where, and if DST would be implemented. This resulted in confusion around the country.
Because of this, in 1966, Congress passed the Uniform Time Act, so every area using DST would start and stop on the same dates. Under this law, states may opt out of observing DST, but no state can stay on DST year-round. Hawaii, Arizona, and several U.S. territories do not observe DST.
In anticipation of possible federal legislation changing this act, 20 states have passed laws or resolutions to make DST permanent, if allowed to. Others are working on laws to decide the fate of DST in their states. In 2021, three Nevada state senators introduced Senate Bill 153 to make DST permanent, but the bill never received a hearing. No new bill has been introduced.
DST used to begin in early April and end in late October. Congress expanded this time frame in 2005, so now we set our clocks forward in early March and back in early November. This means we are on DST for almost eight months and on standard time for just over four months.
Since we are on DST for almost two-thirds of the year anyway, millions of Americans think we should go to permanent DST. In March 2022, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., reintroduced the “Sunshine Protection Act,” which would make DST permanent year-round. The U.S. Senate unanimously approved this bill, but the bill died in the House of Representatives.
Besides avoiding the hassle of changing our clocks twice a year, would it matter if we stayed on standard time or DST all year? Various studies have found that the time change has real health consequences.
“The University of Colorado at Boulder looked at two decades’ worth of car crashes and discovered that fatal accidents increase by 6 percent during the first week after clocks are moved ahead in the spring, accounting for approximately 28 additional deaths per year. Meanwhile, researchers in cardiovascular medicine found a 24 percent increase in heart attacks the Monday after daylight saving time began in the spring (as well as a 21 percent decrease in heart attacks the Tuesday after DST ends each fall).” (Reno Gazette Journal, Feb. 10)
However, making either setting permanent would impact our lives. Under permanent DST, the sun wouldn’t rise in Northern Nevada until after 8 a.m. in December. Under permanent standard time, the sun would rise before 5 a.m. in the summer. Either scenario would create problems for many people.
As we prepare to lose an hour of sleep, Nevadans should be thinking about whether the once-yearly sacrifice is worth it, or if we want to choose a permanent time standard. In the meantime, get ready to spring forward!
Jeanette Strong, whose column appears every other week, is a Nevada Press Association award-winning columnist. She may be reached at email@example.com.
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