About Time! Daylight Saving, That Is

Every fall and spring, we go back and forth. Why?

Clock on a nightstand
Daylight saving time (DST) for 2014 begins at 2:00 a.m. (local time) on Sunday, March 9. Cavan Images/Digital Vision/Getty Images

In most of the United States, daylight saving time begins (set clocks ahead one hour) at 2:00 a.m. on the second Sunday in March and ends (set clocks back one hour) at 2:00 a.m. on the second Sunday in November. However, daylight saving time is not observed in the states of Arizona (except for the Navajo Nation, where daylight saving time is observed), Hawaii, and the overseas territories of American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands.

The U.S. Department of Transportation also reminds Americans to change the batteries in their smoke detectors when they change the time on their clocks.

"When changing your clocks, remember the old saying: 'Spring ahead, fall back,'" says the DOT. "It's also a good time to make sure your smoke alarm has a new battery."

Why do we do this to ourselves twice a year?

"Just as sunflowers turn their heads to catch every sunbeam, so too have we discovered a simple way to get more from our sun." -- Time.gov

From Time.gov's About Daylight Saving Time exhibit, we learn that daylight saving time:

  • Lets us make better use of daylight. A poll done by the U.S. Department of Transportation indicated that Americans liked daylight saving time because "there is more light in the evenings so you can do more in the evenings."
  • Saves energy: "Studies done by the U.S. Department of Transportation show that daylight saving time trims the entire country's electricity usage by a significant, but small amount, of less than one percent each day with daylight saving time."
  • Is good for public health: "Several studies in the U.S. and Britain have found that daylight, almost certainly because of improved visibility, substantially decreases (by four times) the likelihood of pedestrians being killed on the roads."

The history of daylight saving time in America is interesting.

As recently as the early 1960's, the decision of whether to observe daylight saving time and when it started and ended was up to each state and even to individual cities. Very confusing! For example, the Time.gov site tells the story of the 35-mile stretch of highway (Route 2) between Moundsville, West Virginia, and Steubenville, Ohio, over which every bus driver and his passengers had to endure, "SEVEN TIME CHANGES."

Observance of daylight saving time and its starting and ending dates are now regulated by the Uniform Time Act of 1966. Under a 1972 amendment, states in more than one time zone could choose to exempt the part of the state that was in one time zone while providing that the part of the State in a different time zone would observe daylight saving time. Just imagine the "Changes and Irregularities" that can come about.

Fortunately, for those of us who just cannot remember "Spring Ahead, fall back," there is still no law against never resetting our clocks and opting for 100 percent accuracy 50 percent of the time.