Global (Daylight) Savings Glut?

9 March 2009 at 8:38 pm 2 comments

| David Gerard |

I almost hate to bring this up given the levels of scorn and derision I was subjected to over this (and that was just from my friends), but a few years ago Paul Fischbeck and I used our traffic safety website to look at the change in risks and fatalities surrounding daylight savings time. There weren’t any obvious changes for drivers and vehicle occupants, but there did appear to be some dramatic changes in pedestrian risks (e.g., deaths per trip). For the “Spring” forward, we observed considerably lower risks during the evening rush offset by elevated morning risks.

Because we observed pedestrian risk numbers spike during the time change and then return to trend, we attributed the effect to people adjusting to the time change. This conjecture is consistent with some published research that looked at this question. Our basic message (we thought) was to “look both ways or you might get run over,” and thought we might get some good Samaritan points along with the people who remind you to change your fire alarm batteries.

Instead, what we found was that the time change is quite the lightning rod for controversy, over energy savings, traffic fatalities, depression, heart attacks, and many other societal ills. As a policy matter, however, we received feedback from across the spectrum. These are some of the tamer selections:

I am a professional working adult, actually a senior, and I as well as hundreds of others, would like to have our clocks left alone. All of us do not enjoy driving to and from work in darkness. The psychological effects are more than depressing as I am sure you are aware. — Muriel

Thank you both for helping our cities to understand that people should come before cars. — Steve

Now do a study about the dangers of children waiting for school buses in the dark. My elementary school age child was leaving the house in the dark at 7am to get her bus until daylight savings time ended this week. — Sylvia

I am not sure what to conclude from all of this. I have no idea what a benefit-cost analysis of the alternatives would look like, but we certainly learned there are more dimensions of the policy issue than we imagined. As a political economy story, the status quo does not appear to be completely locked in.  A few years back, the federal government pushed back the return to standard time until after Halloween in order to reduce the risk of vehicular trick-or-treating incidents.

Perhaps in November I will be able to shed some additional light on the issue.

Entry filed under: Former Guest Bloggers, Myths and Realities.

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. REW  |  9 March 2009 at 9:17 pm

    You have a natural laboratory, David, to do the in-depth analysis you are wont to do: Indiana. All counties therein are now using DST, after decades of avoiding it. Moreover, there are dozens of cases where counties petitioned to move between Eastern and Central Standard Time as a consequence of choices to follow DST or not. Hilarious.

    So, paper number one is just as you propose: the effect of DST on fatalities and other social performance measures. Paper number two is simpler: how has Indiana culture progressed as a consequence of decades of DST denial?

  • 2. JK  |  11 March 2009 at 9:02 am

    There’s a nice study out there by the Karolinska Institute of Stockholm on the influence of DST on myocardial infarctions, BUT, it doesn’t really state how many of those people were driving.

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