On Sunday March 10, 2019, most states in the United States “sprang forward,” meaning the clocks were set one hour forward. Most of us have by now more or less adjusted to the time change. The reason that we adjust our clocks twice a year (“springing forward” and “falling back”) in the United States can be traced back to the year 1918 with the enactment of the Standard Time Act. The Standard Time Act vested responsibility for establishing boundaries between the standard time zones in the Interstate Commerce Commission, which was later transferred to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). However, it is rumored that Benjamin Franklin had previously proposed the basic idea of daylight saving time in 1784. The Uniform Time Act of 1966 established a system of uniform daylight saving time throughout the United States and its possessions. However, daylight saving time is not observed in Hawaii, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and most of Arizona.
The DOT lists the reasons for why we observe daylight saving time on its website:
It saves energy. During Daylight Saving Time, the sun sets one hour later in the evenings, so the need to use electricity for household lighting and appliances is reduced. People tend to spend more time outside in the evenings during Daylight Saving Time, which reduces the need to use electricity in the home. Also, because the sunrise is very early in the morning during the summer months, most people will awake after the sun has already risen, which means they turn on fewer lights in their homes.
It saves lives and prevents traffic injuries. During Daylight Saving Time, more people travel to and from school and work and complete errands during the daylight.
It reduces crime. During Daylight Saving Time, more people are out conducting their affairs during the daylight rather than at night, when more crime occurs.
However, according to a survey conducted in 2013, “[o]nly 37% [of Americans] think DST is worth the hassle.”
The situation in the European Union (EU) is similar to the United States. Most European countries will this year start daylight saving time on Sunday, March 31, 2019. However, this time change could be one of the last times that the clocks are changed in the EU as the original reasons for the introduction of daylight saving time are increasingly being questioned. On March 3, 2019, the EU’s Transport and Tourism Committee voted in favor of a European Commission proposal to end the biannual clock changes. If passed by the full European Parliament and the Council of the European Union, 2021 would be the last year in which EU Member States change their clocks. Member States remain free to decide whether they want to permanently keep summer time or winter time (standard time).
Legislation on daylight saving time in the EU was first passed in 1980 to harmonize the different summer time arrangements in the Member States. Since 2001, the relevant law has been Directive 2000/84/EC, which provides that all Member States must switch to summer time on the last Sunday of March and switch back to their standard time (winter time) on the last Sunday of October. (Directive 2000/84/EC, arts. 2 & 3.) In February 2018, the European Parliament called on the Commission ”to conduct a thorough assessment of the current summer-time arrangements directive and, if necessary, come up with a proposal for its revision.” Among the reasons, it cited numerous scientific studies that have indicated the existence of negative effects on human health, a number of citizens’ initiatives that have highlighted citizens’ concerns about the biannual clock change, and its own previously-voiced concerns over the negative impact of summer time arrangements. The European Commission therefore conducted a public consultation from July 4, 2018 to August 16, 2018. It received 4.6 million responses, including 4.5 million from individual citizens, of which 84% were in favor of discontinuing daylight saving time. Together with the results of the public consultation, the Commission presented a legislative proposal to end the seasonal time change by the year 2019. As mentioned, that proposal was voted on by the EU’s Transport and Tourism Committee, which extended the time frame to 2021.
Member States are now discussing whether they want to permanently keep summer time or winter time. A recent survey conducted in France, for example, found that 83.71% are in favor of ending the biannual time change and that 59.17% are in favor of choosing summer time as the permanent standard.
Other European countries are also closely watching the EU. Swiss citizens as early as 1978 voted against a law that would have introduced daylight saving time. However, in 1981, the Swiss Federal Council—the Swiss government—nonetheless introduced the Time Act (which was later repealed and replaced by the Messgesetz), which authorized the Federal Council to introduce summer time in order to achieve consistency with arrangements in other European countries. (Messgesetz, art. 15, para. 2.) In 1984, the Swiss parliament enacted the Summer Time Ordinance (Sommerzeitverordung), which stated that Switzerland would follow the same summer time change arrangements as the EU. The Swiss Federal Council argued that Switzerland would otherwise become a “time island”, which would negatively affect the Swiss economy in several areas. As it seems likely that the EU will eliminate daylight saving time in 2021, Switzerland will follow the developments in its neighboring countries and decide whether it is in its interests to follow suit.