Paula Williams: Are we saving energy or wasting time?

Mar. 07, 2013 @ 09:00 PM

This weekend marks a biannual event that affects the entire country (with the exception of Arizona and Hawaii).  At 2 a.m. this Sunday, we will all “spring ahead,” or move our clocks forward one hour.  Unfortunately, that often translates into losing an hour of sleep.
A benefit, however, of springing ahead is there will be more sunlight later in the evening.  The shifting of the clocks is also a sign that spring really is just around the corner (it actually begins on Wednesday, March 20).
Have you ever wondered why at 2 a.m.?  Have you ever asked why do we shift clocks at all?
The time 2 a.m. on a Sunday morning was chosen as the official changeover time for practical reasons and minimal disruptions.  Most people are at home at that time (or should be).  The fewest number of trains are running.  It is late enough to minimally affect restaurants and bars.  It prevents the day from switching to yesterday (think about it — that is confusing!).  2 a.m. is early enough that the entire continental U.S. switches by daybreak.  And early shift workers and early churchgoers are not affected.
The big reason for the shift in times is energy conservation.  Less electricity is supposedly needed with more daylight and less time between sunset and bedtime.  In fact, Ben Franklin first suggested shifting the clocks to save on candles.  No one took him up on the idea at the time.
The first official time shift in the U.S. came in 1918.  It was later stopped and then restarted during World War II to save energy. Daylight saving time was stopped again when the war was over and restarted with the Uniform Time Act of 1966.  It was lengthened from 6 months to 8 months in 2005.
The big question:  Does Daylight Saving Time actually save energy? No study has been conducted that proves that to be true that I could find.  However, a study by the Rand Corporation in 2007 found that the increase in daylight saving led to a 10 percent drop in car crashes — an unexpected benefit.
The question has been debated for years about the possibility of year-round Daylight Saving Time.  I personally would not have a problem with that.  It seems a bit contrived and perhaps even silly to be turning our nation’s collective clocks forward and back twice a year.  I really hate losing that hour in the spring, although the extra hour in the fall is always welcome.  But leaving the clocks alone seems like the logical thing to do.
What I really love is that my cell phone and my computer automatically adjust when Daylight Saving Time begins or ends.  Now if I could just get Gralyn to get up at 2 a.m. and adjust all the other clocks! (Just kidding!)

Paula Gulledge Williams lives in High Point and teaches at Pilot Elementary School in Greensboro. Her columns appear on this page every other Thursday. Representations of fact and opinions are solely those of the author.