Why We Still Have Daylight Saving Time (Maybe)


Another Friday, another Now I Know Weekender edition! Today’s Week in Review is below, but first, two things.

The first: Dave Pell, a long-time compatriot of mine in the niche newsletter space, has a new book out, titled “Please Scream Inside Your Head.” It’s an irreverent look at 2020, also known as the longest year of many of our lives. If you’re familiar with his work on Next Draft, his fantastic email newsletter, you’re probably not surprised to hear that the book is similarly fantastic (albeit more political than anything I’d publish myself). Norman Lear says “I can’t recall a more engaging read,” and if Norman Lear says that — well, it has to be good.

The second: in most of the U.S. this weekend, it’s going to be time to change your clocks back. Daylight Saving Time is at its end, at least until next spring.

DST is, from the perspective of a trivia writer (that is, me), fantastic. It’s popped up in this newsletter time after time after time after time after time, almost always because of the confusion and delay it can cause. There’s very good reason to get rid of it — and yet, we don’t. The reason why, most likely, is that it’s really hard to get governments to make changes to things like this. But even then, there may be another, less cynical reason: it protects children when they wait for the school bus.

That was part of the reasoning back in 1974, at least. That year, the House Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce funded a study on the impacts of DST, which you can read starting on page 16 of this pdf. The study was possible because of the energy crisis — for reasons unclear, the government thought that extending DST into January and February of 1974 would help drive oil prices down. As a result, we have some actual data on the subject. Parents were upset; in the greater New York City area, as late as 8:30 AM during that time period, and never before 7:30 AM. If your child was waiting for the school bus at 6 AM, it was pitch black outside, and that could be dangerous. And it turns out, it probably was. Scroll through a bit and you’ll find this paragraph:

Fatalities involving school age children over the entire day in both January and February 1974 are reduced from the previous year. There was an increase in school children fatalities during the morning hours of 6 to 9 a.m. for February 1974 v. February 1973.

There’s definitely a problem there. But if you keep reading the report, DST may not be the solution. That second sentence doesn’t end as I have it above; there’s more: “but an off-setting decrease in fatalities occurred in the early evening hours.” But that may have been impacted by a secondary effect of the clock shift. The report continues: 

Reports from 37 States and the District of Columbia indicate school districts in 18 States advanced their school hours because of the problems of dark mornings. About 44 percent of the school districts and 4 7 percent of the students enrolled in the 37 reporting States were affected by the schedule changes.

What a mess — especially when you factor in after-school activities. It’s really hard to see, data-wise, if there’s any real harm from having year-round Daylight Saving Time. But anecdotally, it doesn’t matter. For 44% of school districts to take action like this, without any sort of centralized guidance, suggests that the move was deeply unpopular with parents and educators alike.

So if you’re upset next week when you look outside at 6 PM and the sun is long gone, you can blame people like me — parents of school-aged kids who really don’t like their kids going to school when it’s still dark outside.

The Now I Know Week in Review

Monday: The Costume That Was a Trick: I don’t think I did a good job with this story — I kind of lost the thread as I was writing it and never really recovered it. It’s fine, but not my favorite.

Tuesday: The Swampy Loophole in the Georgia Constitution: This one, on the other hand, was a joy to write. Not as much fun as Wednesday’s, but still fun.

Wednesday: How to Brew an Economy: Reader Connor D. wrote in to compliment (I hope!) me on a sentence in this one: “Simple, straightforward, and, again, common.” A five-word, four-comma sentence! I didn’t notice until he pointed it out. The comma after “and” probably shouldn’t be there, but who cares! Connor called it “an enjoyable sentence” and “beautiful” and I’m going to agree!

Thursday: There’s No-No Place Like Home: It took me a good hour to come up with a title for this one. It only barely makes sense.

And some other things you should check out:

Some long reads for the weekend.

1) “The high cost of living in a disabling world” (The Guardian, 18 minutes, November 2021). The subhead: “For all the advances that have been made in recent decades, disabled people cannot yet participate in society ‘on an equal basis’ with others – and the pandemic has led to many protections being cruelly eroded”

2) “The Greatest Unsolved Heist in Irish History” (Atlas Obscura, 26 minutes, November 2021). The Irish Crown Jewels were stolen in 1907 — and the mystery hasn’t been solved, nor have the jewels been recovered. Here’s the story behind an incredible theft. 

3) “How I accidentally started a Wikipedia hoax about Amelia Bedelia” (Daily Dot, 7 minutes, July 2014). I was going to use this as the bonus fact on Wednesday, but I decided to save it for here instead. If you want to know why it would have (maybe) made sense on Wednesday, give it a read!

Have a great weekend!