COLUMBIA — Come Sunday at 2 a.m., Missourians and people across America will gain an extra hour of sleep with the end of daylight saving time and a return to standard time.
At this point, changing the clocks is a matter of habit, albeit a federally mandated one begun during World War I. Why does it continue?
David Prerau of Chestnut Hill, Mass., has some of the answers. Prerau's fascination began as a researcher for the U.S. Department of Transportation, in one of the first extensive studies on the effects of daylight saving time on crime, energy savings and motor vehicle accidents.
Since then, Prerau, author of the 2005 book "Seize the Daylight: The Curious and Contentious Story of Daylight Saving Time," has spoken all over the world about daylight saving time. He was consulted by a congressman when the decision was made in 2007 to extend daylight saving time by four weeks in the spring and one week in the fall.
Reached by phone Friday morning, Prerau answered questions and cleared up a few misconceptions about daylight saving time. Here are excerpts of the interview:
There are a lot of rumors about the origins of daylight saving time. When did the idea actually come about?
The idea has actually been around since Benjamin Franklin realized when he got up early one morning that he could save on candlelight if he just got up earlier to do his work. The idea was actually propagated in the early 1900s by William Willett in England, who went riding in the morning and realized people weren't utilizing the beautiful mornings.
So how did it come to be used in America?
With World War I, many countries were trying to save energy with the war. It started with Germany and, soon after, Britain adopted it. The U.S. got on board when they joined the war. ... Governments moved the clocks forward in the summer months, essentially moving an hour of sunlight in the morning to the evening, so people wouldn't sleep through daylight they could use.
How much energy did/does this actually save?
Anywhere between a half and 1 percent of electrical energy use per day. That was a good response considering daylight saving time is actually free to do.
So why did the U.S. continue to abide by daylight saving time after World War I and II?
For a while after the wars, daylight saving time ended nationally and municipalities could choose to do whatever they wanted with it. In the 1970s, everyone was encouraged to use it again with the energy crisis. And since then, states have kept up with it because of the energy savings and reduction in traffic accidents.
Was it complicated to have unregulated daylight saving time?
Yes. For example, in a 35-mile train trip from Moundsville, W.Va., to Steubenville, Ohio, in order to keep up with the time a person would have to change his or her clock seven different times. Luckily, that has been rectified.
What have been recent developments with daylight saving time?
The U.S. extended daylight saving time in 2007 and added three to four more weeks in the spring and one more week in the fall after the Department of Energy did a study that verified that the extension saved energy. It now ends the week after Halloween, too, which gives trick-or-treaters more daylight. Halloween has four times the normal rate of pedestrian accidents, and extending daylight saving time helps cut that down.
Many people believe daylight saving time has something to do with farming. Does it?
That is ironic because the farmers have been the most against daylight saving up until today’s times. Farmers follow the sun no matter the clock, so when they’re doing that and everyone else changes the time, they’re out of sync with the rest of the world. Recently, however, farmers are affected less because farmers have better technology and equipment to worry about the sun less.
What are some of the benefits besides saving energy?
Well, from the studies I have done, we have found it reduces traffic accidents because of the light during working hours. There are also health benefits for people who suffer from seasonal affective disorder and feel depressed when the sun is not out the majority of the day. ... But the biggest benefit, from what I have found in my research, is that people just enjoy having an extra hour of sun during the day. People like being able to go outside after work.
Why do people get upset when we revert to standard time in the fall?
People don't like it because they lose that hour of light they're used to in the evening. If we didn't do it, though, we'd have extraordinarily late sunrises in the middle of winter, and we'd lose light hours that way. It gets hard around the transition times because people forget we have less sunlight hours in the winter to begin with.
What about the early birds who wake up in the dark in the summer?
The sun rises later in the summer and people don't like to go to work in the dark. Many parents also advocate against daylight saving time because it forces their kids to walk to school in the dark. That's why we revert to standard time during the four darkest months of the winter — when school is in session and when it would stay darker later into the morning.
How much of the world adheres to daylight saving time?
Most of the United States does, with the exception of Arizona and Hawaii. In those places, it gets hard because transportation schedules have to work around those places. ... Over 70 other countries and two billion people are affected by daylight saving time. Most of the countries that don't use it are near the equator, where it doesn't matter so much.
How did the U.S. standardize daylight saving time after municipalities were allowed to choose whether they used it?
In 1966, the federal government decided that it was too confusing by municipality and that it had to be a statewide decision to adhere to daylight saving time. If a state decides to use it, they must work with the start and end dates that the federal government sets forth.
Any tips to prepare for the time change this Sunday?
I don't think anyone has trouble getting an extra hour of sleep. Just prepare yourself to have a little less light in the night time.