Daylight Saving Time: What’s It Good For? European Lawmakers Ask
Posted February 9, 2018 3:35 p.m. EST
LONDON — European Parliament members have joined the chorus of skeptics about daylight saving time who argue that the practice of springing our clocks forward and then turning them back every year does more harm than good.
The European assembly voted 384 to 152 on Thursday on a resolution calling for the European Commission, the European Union’s executive arm, to evaluate the current system and “if necessary, come up with a proposal for its revision.”
The resolution was nonbinding but echoed global concerns about the possible hazards of changing the clocks. Increasingly, health experts have questioned whether it’s worth the hassle to switch year after year.
“Numerous studies have failed to reach a conclusive outcome but indicate negative effects on human health,” European Parliament members wrote in their proposal, which was debated for an hour Thursday.
Daylight saving time was first introduced in Europe and in the United States in the World War I era as part of an effort to conserve energy and decrease the use of fuel for lighting and heating. The general aim is to provide extra evening daylight in the summer and extra morning daylight in the winter.
The practice still has benefits, some experts argue, allowing the public to commute to work in the morning light and giving them an extra hour for outdoor leisure activities during the summer.
But Karima Delli, a French member of the European Parliament who backed the resolution for a review, said that putting the clocks forward during the summer left people feeling tired and increased the risk of accidents.
“Studies that show an increase in road accidents or sleep trouble during the time change must be taken seriously,” Delli said, adding that the argument about energy saving was obsolete.
The EU’s transport commissioner, Violeta Bulc, urged Parliament to also consider the benefits of longer daylight on human health. She added that allowing the 28 member states to apply uncoordinated time changes would be “detrimental to the internal markets.”
Britain, which is negotiating its exit from the bloc, sets its clocks to Coordinated Universal Time in fall and an hour ahead in spring. (New York is generally five hours behind Britain; Western Europe is an hour ahead.)
But lawmakers in the British Parliament have previously proposed using daylight saving time year-round, in part to save energy and also to reduce accidents. That move would essentially take an hour of light from the morning and add it to the afternoon.
That bill was met with fierce resistance in places like Scotland, where residents argued that they liked the afternoon gloom just fine. Other foes of the change argued that changing the clocks to match the time in Europe would require abandoning Coordinated Universal Time and would be a sign of the further erosion of British sovereignty.
Supporters of the proposal, however, included groups representing cricket players, people with seasonal affective disorder, pub owners, dog breeders and environmentalists.
Last month, Finland called for daylight saving time to be scrapped after a petition against the system gathered 70,000 signatures.
In 2014, Russia moved to permanent winter time after a medical investigation found that permanent summer time created stress, health problems and an increase in road accidents in the mornings.
Turkey, on the other hand, decided in 2016 to switch to daylight saving time, arguing that summer time all year round made for better use of daylight. Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said the new measure would “prevent confusion.”
The decision prompted opposition from parents, who said their children were being forced to commute to school before sunrise in the winter.
Daylight saving time has also stirred debate in the United States, where joint research by Johns Hopkins University and Stanford University found that the loss of one hour of sleep during the summer led to more traffic accidents.
Another study, by the Brookings Institution, suggested that making daylight saving permanent in the United States could save it millions of dollars a year in social costs by reducing crimes such as rape and robberies in the evening.
Some studies have even suggested that conflict in relationships could be helped if the practice of moving the time forward and back each year were to end.
The European Commission will debate the Parliament’s proposal. Any decision to amend the law would need full approval from all EU member states, and the process could take up to a year.