It’s that time of year again.
At 2 a.m. Sunday, Utahns will “fall back” and turn their clocks back an hour to standard time, ditching daylight saving time until spring.
People will comment on the extra hour of sleep, and many will enjoy being able to see the risen sun as they head to work and school.
It’s a familiar routine, and one most people will probably see as a minor tweak to their busy lives. But behind the clockwork-like banality some might feel about falling back, there is actually a raging debate over clock changes, their costs to health and to the economy, and whether the current system of twice-a-year switches is helping or hurting.
A simple plan
When do the clocks change and why do we use daylight saving time?
Both of those questions tend to show up as top trending topics across the U.S. as the time changes near, according to Google (and including instances where people search for the incorrect “daylight savings”). Many Americans claim confusion about when exactly the time change comes, and the reasons for it.
Daylight saving time, or DST, was first used in the U.S. in 1918 as a way to conserve energy during wartime, and the practice mostly fell into its current iteration during the 1970s energy crisis.
But many Americans believe that, after a century in use, the practice is antiquated, and recent research suggests it may cause more problems than it solves.
Utah has been a telling example, with a series of legislative efforts to exempt the state from DST having seen public debate recent years.
None of those measures has so much as made it past a committee though. So, at least for now, Utahns must join with most of the rest of the U.S. and continue to “spring forward” and “fall back.”
So when does the time change?
In Utah and most of the U.S., the clocks move backward by one hour early Sunday, Nov. 4. At 2 a.m., the clocks should move back by one hour, to 1 a.m.
It doesn’t happen everywhere, though.
Neither Arizona nor Hawaii uses daylight saving time; their clocks stay the same year-round. The practice causes little heartache in Hawaii, which is isolated from other states, but Arizona’s bucking the trend can sometimes confuse its closest neighbors as it vacillates between the Mountain and Pacific time zones. Starting on Sunday, Arizona will sync back up with its Mountain Standard Time neighbors like Utah.
In March, Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill to abolish seasonal time changes, but the bill has yet to get approval from Congress. California has a chance to vote on removing clock changes during Tuesday’s election, although that change would also require approval from Congress.
In 56 other territories around the Northern Hemisphere, including across Europe, the clocks move back on Sunday, Oct. 28, making the switch a week earlier than the U.S., according to timeanddate.com, which tracks times around the world.
The European Union has considered ending required clock changes in 2019. The EU Commission issued a draft directive in September that would allow member states to decide for themselves whether to stick to a permanent standard time.
Why do we bother?
Changing clocks to better match up with the seasons goes back to ancient times, but the current practice of moving the clocks forward for part of the year is typically credited with starting in World War I-era Germany, where the idea was adopted as a way to conserve fuel and allow for another hour of work productivity.
Most countries dropped the practice after the war, but Britain kept the practice up, making it a permanent national policy in 1925.
In the U.S., daylight saving time returned with World War II and then was left up to states to decide whether to adopt it. The Uniform Time Act, passed in 1966, attempted to simplify DST patterns, and most states have followed the same dates for DST ever since.
Originally, DST lasted from the last Sunday in April to the last Sunday in October, but it has been amended twice since, extending it to its current length from the second Sunday in March to the first Sunday in November.
There have also been special cases, such as during the energy crisis of the 1970s when Congress ordered states to go on DST for more than a full year between January 1974 and April 1975.
What does it do?
While changing the clocks is a twice-a-year habit, few Americans know why they are doing it. A report two years ago from Rasmussen Reports suggested only a third of Americans thought it was worth the hassle, and many didn’t understand why they were supposed to do it.
Pushing the clocks forward in the summer has helped create a tradition of late summer evenings, and the extra hour of daylight can be indispensable for farmers, ranchers, golfers, hikers and others who enjoy more time outdoors.
But studies in recent years have tied clock changes to health issues, increased car accident rates, workplace injuries and even depression. There is also a body of research suggesting that reduced workplace productivity and maintenance issues resulting from the clock changes take a toll on economic activity.
The Utah Legislature considered a bill this year that would have kept the state in daylight saving time year-round. The measure, sponsored by Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville and Rep. Norman Thurston, R-Provo, failed to make it past a Senate committee.
Some businesses have vouched for DST as being a good thing, especially golf courses, grill and charcoal industries and other companies that bank on people being outdoors during their waking hours.