Is British Summer Time still correct?
The concept of daylight saving time was first proposed in 1895 by New Zealand entomologist George Hudson, who wanted more daylight to allow him to collect insects after work. But it was William Willett who successfully championed the idea.
Willett, a successful builder, had a eureka moment while riding a horse in Kent early one summer morning. In 1907, he published a pamphlet, Waste of daylightwho noted that in summer “the sun shines on the earth for several hours a day while we sleep”, and yet there is “only a brief period of waning daylight left” after work, to indulge to leisure activities (a keen golfer, he did not like to cut short his rounds at dusk).
Rather impractical, he proposed advancing the clocks 80 minutes, in weekly 20-minute steps, on Sundays in April, and doing the reverse in September. He campaigned vigorously; but Parliament rejected the idea in 1909 and Willett had to die of influenza in 1915 before his plan was adopted.
When was his proposal adopted?
Germany was the first country to do so – deciding, in April 1916, to advance the clocks in order to save electricity used for lighting and thus relaunch production during the First World War; Britain followed suit a few weeks later, using Greenwich Mean Time in the winter but switching to GMT+1, or British Summer Time (BST), during the summer months. The United States followed in March 1918.
In Britain, this decision initially caused confusion and opposition, although the nation had stuck to the same system since 1916. In America, the confusion lasted longer. Daylight saving time was canceled after the war due to pressure from the agricultural lobby, but some states retained it, resulting in a patchwork of several different time zones – until in 1966, Congress passes the Uniform Time Act, promoting six months of standard time and six of daylight saving time. Today, daylight saving time is used in approximately 70 countries, affecting more than one billion people.
And what advantages does it bring?
It certainly helps us enjoy the long summer evenings. Beyond that, says Michael Downing, author of a book on the subject, “opponents and proponents of daylight saving time still don’t know exactly what it does.”
Studies suggest it increases physical activity – evening TV ratings drop when the clocks go forward in the spring. This certainly reduces the electricity used for lighting – although in the US it has been suggested that these savings are offset by the additional energy consumed in leisure activities. It appears to reduce traffic accidents, which increase after dark, and is popular with businesses as the longer evenings encourage people to shop.
What are the disadvantages ?
The actual changing of clocks is inconvenient and unpopular, and has tangible negative effects. Danish scientists who studied 185,419 people diagnosed with depression found that the condition spiked 11% when clocks went back in the fall, due to disrupted biological clocks and suddenly shortened evenings.
Other studies have shown that the risk of heart attacks, strokes, and traffic accidents increases immediately after the clocks advance in the spring, and judges are more likely to issue harsh sentences, likely in due to the loss of an hour of sleep. A YouGov Survey 2019 found that people in the UK were moderately supportive of maintaining BST, from 44% to 39%. But a clear majority of Britons (59%) would like to stay permanently on summer time.
So why not do that?
Britain tried it between October 1968 and October 1971. Harold Wilson’s government adopted year-round GMT+1, or British Standard Time, on a trial basis. The Home Office said it resulted in a substantial drop in road deaths in the evening and a slight increase in the morning, as well as huge savings in electricity and an increase in outdoor sports.
Official polls found he was backed by 50% of the population and opposed by 41%, but he was unpopular in Scotland, where in mid-winter the sun didn’t rise until 10 a.m. which means that the children were going to school in the dark. .
Business and tourism were in favor of British Standard Time; farmers, the construction industry and other outdoor workers who start early, such as letter carriers, objected to having to work for hours in the dark. In a free vote in 1970, the House of Commons voted 366 to 81 in favor of returning to the old system.
What positions have other nations taken?
Most countries that are not close to the equator observe daylight saving time in one form or another. The main exceptions are India, Russia and China. But whatever stance a nation takes, it seems to remain controversial in some quarters. Russia instituted permanent daylight saving time in 2011, then threw it out altogether in 2014.
In 2019, the European Parliament voted to abolish summer time, although the proposal has not yet been approved by the European Council. In the US, by contrast, a bipartisan group of senators unanimously passed the Sunshine Protection Act of 2021, which would make year-round daylight saving time the law of the land; neither President Biden nor the House of Representatives has yet approved the measure.
Is a change likely in the UK?
In 2010, a private member’s bill was proposed calling for year-round daylight saving time. Alex Salmond called it an attempt to “plunge Scotland into morning darkness”. He has filibustered Parliament; Jacob Rees-Mogg has added a devastating amendment giving Somerset its own time zone.
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents is still campaigning for year-round BST, which it says would reduce road deaths by 70 a year and have a host of other benefits including reduced crime , which increases during hours of darkness. .