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Mitch Edelman: Few savings in time switch

This weekend, let's put aside politics, world crises and gloom and doom. They'll still be here later. Spring is just about here, and it's about time.

Along with warm weather, crocuses, tulips and robins, soon to be followed by Orioles, spring marks the return of Daylight Saving Time. At least it used to. Since 2007, DST arrived in early March. Why is that anachronism still here?

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The modern implementation of DST began during World War I. In 1916, Germany used it to economize on its coal supplies. The U.S. set clocks ahead in 1918, and again for nearly the entirety of World War II. But it wasn't until Congress passed the Uniform Time Act in 1966 that DST was more-or-less universally implemented.

The DST period called for in the 1966 Act was from the end of April to the end of October. Those dates have changed, and now the law specifies the second Sunday in March to the second Sunday in November as Daylight Saving Time.

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We reset our wall clocks and induce two or three days of jet lag twice yearly, allegedly to conserve energy. It's not all that clear that we do. During the oil crisis of the 1970s, the Department of Energy claimed that DST reduced electricity use by about 1 percent, compared with standard time. But now, changes in lifestyles brought about by air conditioning and sophisticated household electronics raise questions about that reduction.

The first extensive analyses to compare energy use under DST and standard time were conducted in Indiana and California in 2007.

In Indiana, researchers discovered that electricity savings due to using less indoor lighting were not as great as increased energy demands for heating during early spring and autumn and for cooling during summer time evening hours. Rather than saving electricity, DST resulted in use actually rising by about 1 percent, increasing electric bills statewide by more than $9 million.

Studies in California mirrored the Indiana results. Other analysis, reported by the Institute for Research in Construction, suggests that DST tends to lower peak power demands during summer evenings, but those savings are offset by increased morning use in spring. It also notes that improvements in building construction over the years make for more energy-efficient structures, and that energy savings attributed to DST may be due in part to better materials and construction techniques.

Changing to DST affects more than energy use. Even with powerful scheduling programs and large computers, international air travel gets very hard to manage during the changeover, as runway usage also changes with the clock. A week ago, the Carroll County Times reported that there's not much time or energy savings for farmers. For example, dairy production may go down during the transition periods between standard and daylight saving times as farmers and cattle adjust to the change. And while farming activities follow the sun, markets adjust their clocks, resulting in annoying dislocations for farmers in scheduling deliveries.

Driving tired is just as dangerous as drinking and driving, so it's no surprise that the Times article also reported that traffic accident rates jump 8 percent the Monday after changeover because of increased drowsiness among drivers. Other studies say the jump is closer to 17 percent. Either way, driving is more dangerous in the days following clock adjustment.

The day before DST day, sunrise was at 6:31; the next sunrise that early will be April 15.

After factoring out drunk driving shortly after bars close, dusk and dawn are among the most dangerous times to be on the road, so the next few weeks are times for morning commuters to be especially alert, as they take to the roads with the sun right on the horizon.

Speaking of drinking and driving, please watch out this weekend for folks who overdo it on St. Patrick's Day. Enjoy the holiday, by all means, but enjoy it responsibly. I hope to see you when we return to politics, world crises and gloom and doom.

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