EU mulls ending daylight saving time -- should the US?

Will “spring forward, fall back” shortly become an anachronism in Europe? The EU asked its citizens what they thought of daylight saving time after several member states objected to the mandatory imposition of the time change. In a six-week response period, 84% of those commenting wanted to see it relegated to the past — and they may get their wish:

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said Friday that he will bring forward proposals to scrap daylight saving time across the 28-nation European Union.

It follows a six-week E.U.-wide public consultation on scrapping the practice. Preliminary results from the survey reveal 84 percent of 4.6 million respondents want to end biannual clock changes. …

Any change would still need approval from national governments and the European Parliament before becoming law. The commission’s announcement means the change will be formally proposed to parliament.

E.U. law currently requires that citizens in all 28 member countries move their clocks an hour forward on the last Sunday in March and switch back to winter time on the final Sunday in October.

It also states that any changes to this practice would have to be made in unison across the entire bloc.

If they do change the law to eliminate “summer time,” as it’s called in Europe, it may not be in time to prevent one last round of it. A EU proposal would merely be the start of a very complicated process, one which might only end the DST mandate rather than replace it with a blanket ban. That would result in a situation where each member nation decides whether to keep it for themselves, and that could be … problematic:

The European Union has three different time zones: Ireland, Britain and Portugal are on Coordinated Universal Time; western and central European countries from Spain to Poland are one hour earlier, on Central European Time; and Finland, the Baltic countries, Bulgaria, Romania and Greece run two hours earlier, on Eastern European Time.

Leaving it up to countries to decide for themselves whether to change clocks could create a confusing and potentially costly patchwork of times across the Continent.

Let’s say Spain decides to keep DST but Poland and Bulgaria doesn’t. That would put Spain one hour ahead of Poland for half the year, despite Spain being 1345 miles to Poland’s west. Spain and Bulgaria would bookend Europe and be on the same clock, while most of Central Europe would be an hour or two behind. Unless France and Czechia adopted DST and Austria and Switzerland didn’t. Finland certainly won’t adopt it, as their complaints about changing clocks in a land where the sun either never sets or never rises is what catalyzed the opposition to DST.

In short, it would be a nightmare to coordinate across the continent. Even for those who dislike DST, a free-for-all situation might be even worse. If the EU is going to make a choice, it will have to be between mandates, or risk doing serious damage to business coordination across the continent.

This situation isn’t all that dissimilar to that here in the US, where we four time zones across the contiguous 48 states. For the most part, the states follow DST on a consistent basis, although a couple of states have presented some challenges. Arizona and Hawaii don’t follow DST but Arizona’s large Navajo reservation does, while Indiana and Florida are among the few states to have two time zones. Indiana’s time-zone issues used to be more complicated because it allowed counties to decide on DST policy, but the state legislature forced all counties to use DST starting in 2006. Before that, Indiana was a microcosm for the free-for-all that the EU might face.

There have been calls to eliminate DST in the US, but that also runs into similar problems. The federal government passed the Uniform Time Act of 1966, which is enforced by the Department of Transportation. This requires states participating in DST to do so within federal direction regarding start and stop dates. However, states can choose to exempt themselves from DST as long as the whole state does so without federal penalties.

If the US moved off of DST, it would therefore require both federal and individual state action to do so — like the EU. Congress would have to repeal the Uniform Time Act and get the DoT out of the clock business first, but then each state would have to enact legislation to stop its own clock changes as well. Failing that, Congress might have to amend the Uniform Time Act to mandate an end to DST — and that might not go over well with those who might oppose DST but also dislike dictates out of Washington DC too. The alternative, though, would be to spend half the year trying to guess what time it is in 48 different states, which has all sorts of implications for business, transportation, energy distribution (especially in hot summer months), and international trade.

There may not be any good reasons for staying on it either. Data has been mixed on its core purpose, which is a theoretical savings on energy use. The trade-offs on energy savings on lighting appear to have been offset or worse by higher demand for air conditioning, and some studies suggest that the clock-shifting has negative health impacts, at least in the short run. If the whole thing is a wash, the only real reason to keep doing it is simply … habit. However, some habits are tough to break, especially when changing them requires significant political action. Absent widespread frustration and outrage over it — as has erupted in Europe, apparently — don’t expect much to happen.

What do you think? Should the US put an end to DST, and how should it be done?  Take our Hot Air/Survey Monkey reader poll and let us know! (Note: This is not a scientific poll.) Scroll down to answer all the questions and click “Done” to submit your answers. I’ll post the results on Monday!

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