Whither Daylight Saving Time?

More than five hours have passed since my blog posting that points out that right now you probably have an extra hour for e-filing of stuff at the International Bureau of WIPO.  Why do you have this extra hour?  You have this extra hour because probably you are in the US and you set your clocks forward.  And (this is the important part) the folks in Switzerland did not pick today to set their clocks forward.  (They will set their clocks forward in about three weeks, on March 31.)

Anyway, during this past five hours I sort of figured that at least one alert reader would have posted a comment about the imminent demise of Daylight Saving Time.  Yet, astonishingly, this has not happened!  So I will now discuss the imminent demise of Daylight Saving Time.

By way of background I will point out what everybody hopefully already realizes, which is that setting clocks forward or back does not for example “give you an extra hour of daylight”.  The number of hours of daylight in a particular day is exactly the same for any particular geographic location on a particular day of the year, regardless of the manner in which one manipulates the hands of a clock.

Long before there were clocks, and indeed long before there were people, the movement of the celestial spheres worked the way that it did then and it still works that way now.  The mere arrival of humans on the planet, the mere invention of clocks, and the mere adoption of Daylight Saving Time in some places did not and does not make any difference in the way that the Earth rotates or revolves around the sun.  To make this important statement a second time:

The number of hours of daylight in a particular day is exactly the same for any particular geographic location on a particular day of the year, regardless of the manner in which one manipulates the hands of a clock.

You can look around the Internet and you can find comments from people who on the one hand feel strongly that DST is A Good Thing and should be preserved, and from people who on the other hand feel strongly that DST is A Bad Thing and should be discontinued.  One category of commenter is the commenters who point to statistics (I guess somebody keeps statistics on this) as to the number of schoolchildren that get run over by school buses in the dark early hours of the morning.  What I cannot recall is what exactly these commenters recommend — maintaining DST all 12 months of the year?  Discontinuing DST completely?  Changing the date in the spring or fall that we are supposed to change our clocks?  I cannot recall.  Anyway, whenever I read things like this, my reaction is, if this is a problem, why not change the starting time of the school day so that the school buses will be running during a time that is not dark?

I note that to the extent that there is a problem that needs fixing, like a problem of school children being run over by school buses in the dark, this is likely a function of lots of other things such as the latitude (the sun is lower in the sky if you are further north) and even the location of a school district within a time zone (further east or further west within the time zone, which changes when the sun is directly overhead and rises and sets).  The correct fix for a problem like this is surely a fix that is specific to the local conditions, including latitude and position within a time zone. It seems more sensible to me to schedule the school day for a particular school district to take into account the local times of sunrise and sunset.  The correct fix is surely not to force people at many other latitudes and geographic locations to set their clocks forward and back.

But the people who decide this stuff have never asked me for my reaction, and so every spring and every fall I have had to set my clocks and watches forward and back.

And, for as long as I have been a patent lawyer, I have also had to pay attention every spring and every fall to the fact that in Europe they start and finish DST on different days than the days that we in the US start and finish DST.  Meaning that if I were going to e-file (or, in the old days, fax-file) a PCT patent application at WIPO in Switzerland, for a few weeks each spring and for a week or so each fall, I needed to keep track of the fact that the local time that worked out to being the same as midnight in Switzerland would be different from the usual.

Which then leads to the point of this blog article.  The point of this blog article is that on September 12, 2018, the European Commission issued a draft directive which proposes a set of rules for the abolishion of seasonal clock changes in the European Union.  You can see the proposal here.  If things go as I predict they will go, 2019 will be the last year in which there will be setting-forward and setting-back of clocks across the entirety of the EU.

There are also several movements afoot within the US to get rid of having to change clocks twice a year.  This turns out to be a much more difficult thing than one might think, due to awkward interactions between federal law and state law.  It all has to do with a federal law that came into effect back when trains were a new thing.  I am interested to read that several proponents of getting rid of having to change clocks twice a year urge that this be accomplished not by getting rid of DST, but instead by making DST a year-round thing.

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In my own daily life the semiannual ritual of setting clocks forward and back has become slightly less onerous due to the Internet of Things.  Years ago every clock and watch and other device around the home and office required manual adjustment.  In 2019, the half a dozen thermostats in my house get set forward and back automatically because they are connected by wifi to a server that knows about DST.  My mobile phone and my notebook computer update automatically.  The smart plugs and smart switches that turn things on and off at scheduled times around my home and office are all connected to wifi and they all update automatically.  The security systems in my home and office update automatically because of this clever device.  Even my wristwatch updates automatically because of a radio message that it receives from a government time standard.

But even in 2019, many clocks in my home and office (for example in the microwave ovens) still need to be updated manually.  As another example, I will need to manually update the clock in my car.

My personal view is that it would be good to get rid of having to change clocks twice a year.  Maybe eventually this will happen.  I personally do not care whether this happens by scrapping DST or by making it a year-round thing.

Oh and I hope and trust that everybody is aware that yes, the correct term is “Daylight Saving Time” without the “s”.  Not “Daylight Savings Time”.

What do you think?  Should we get rid of having to change clocks twice a year?  Please post a comment below.

2 Replies to “Whither Daylight Saving Time?”

  1. I quite agree that as more and more ‘things’ adjust the time automatically, the outdated ritual of moving clocks backwards and forwards for the few items such as clocks in cars and older devices will become more and more irritating and less and less appropriate to the younger generation, who already rely on the more “modern” devices for which the ritual of us “oldies” manually adjusting timepieces just seems ridiculous.

    We are now beginning to consider things such as starting school/college later for teens, because scientifically it has been shown that they learn things better later in the day and with more adults tending to work more flexible hours there are lots of things that are changing regarding what we do and when we choose to do them – the loss of old habits such as the traffic jams occurring during “the rush-hour” can only be considered a good thing and in years to come, I think that future generations will just look back and smile at some of the quaint ways of the older generation (as each generation has before them)!

    I’m all in favour of simplifying things and sticking to one set of times.

  2. It will be easier for those trying to calculate time differences if everybody uses standard time. If you don’t like when the sun rises, choose the standard time of a different zone. For example, if you want to be on UTC -4, call it Atlantic Standard Time (UTC -4), not Eastern Daylight Saving Time (UTC -5 +1).

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