What is Daylight Saving Time?
The magical extra hour that comes but once a year takes place this Sunday, Nov. 4 when Daylight Saving Time ends at 2 a.m. Remember, you’ll “fall back” and set your clocks back one hour. Many electronic devices automatically adjust when Daylight Saving Time begins or ends. Fire officials suggest changing the clocks is a good reminder to change smoke detector batteries and check that devices are in working order. Arizona, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, U.S. Virgin Islands and American Samoa do not observe Daylight Savings Time.
WHEN WE CHANGE OUR CLOCKS
Most of the United States begins Daylight Saving Time at 2 a.m. on the second Sunday in March and reverts to standard time on the first Sunday in November. In the U.S., each time zone switches at a different time.
SPELLING AND GRAMMAR
The official spelling is Daylight Saving Time, not Daylight SavingS Time. Saving is used here as a verbal adjective (a participle). It modifies time and tells us more about its nature; namely, that it is characterized by the activity of saving daylight. It is a saving daylight kind of time. Because of this, it would be more accurate to refer to DST as daylight-saving time. Similar examples would be a mind-expanding book or a man-eating tiger. Saving is used in the same way as saving a ball game, rather than as a savings account. Adding to the confusion is that the phrase Daylight Saving Time is inaccurate, since no daylight is actually saved. Daylight Shifting Time would be better, and Daylight Time Shifting more accurate, but neither is politically desirable.
WHEN IN THE MORNING?
In the U.S., clocks change at 2 a.m. local time. In spring, clocks spring forward from 1:59 a.m. to 3 a.m.; in fall, clocks fall back from 1:59 a.m. to 1:00 a.m. In the United States, Daylight Saving Time commences at 2 a.m. to minimize disruption. However, many states restrict bars from serving alcohol between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. At 2 a.m. in the fall, however, the time switches back one hour. So, can bars serve alcohol for that additional hour? Some states claim that bars actually stop serving liquor at 1:59 a.m., so they have already stopped serving when the time reverts to Standard Time.
Other states solve the problem by saying that liquor can be served until "two hours after midnight." In practice, however, many establishments stay open an extra hour in the fall. In the U.S., 2 a.m. was originally chosen as the changeover time because it was practical and minimized disruption. Most people were at home and this was the time when the fewest trains were running. It is late enough to minimally affect bars and restaurants, and it prevents the day from switching to yesterday, which would be confusing. It is early enough that the entire continental U.S. switches by daybreak, and the changeover occurs before most early shift workers and early churchgoers are affected.
A SAFETY REMINDER
Many fire departments encourage people to change the batteries in their smoke detectors when they change their clocks because Daylight Saving Time provides a convenient reminder. "A working smoke detector more than doubles a person's chances of surviving a home fire," says William McNabb of the Troy Fire Department in Michigan. More than 90 percent of homes in the United States have smoke detectors, but one-third are estimated to have dead or missing batteries.
Following the 1973 oil embargo, the U.S. Congress extended Daylight Saving Time to eight months, rather than the normal six months. During that time, the U.S. Department of Transportation found that observing Daylight Saving Time in March and April saved the equivalent in energy of 10,000 barrels of oil each day—a total of 600,000 barrels in each of those two years. Likewise, in 1986, Daylight Saving Time moved from the last Sunday in April to the first Sunday in April. No change was made to the ending date of the last Sunday in October. Adding the entire month of April to Daylight Saving Time is estimated to save the U.S. about 300,000 barrels of oil each year. Beginning in 2007, Daylight Saving Time commenced on the second Sunday in March and ended on the first Sunday in November, thereby saving even more oil.
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- Joanne Loftus