The Shocking Truth about Daylight Saving Time

You’ll be surprised to see who really profits from “springing forward.”

By Leah Zerbe

Photography by Getty Images


what's the deal with daylight saving time?Pop quiz time! True or false?

1. Daylight Saving Time helps us conserve energy.

2. Daylight Saving Time was developed to help farmers.

3. Daylight Saving Time unequivocally reduces traffic deaths.

The answer to all of these? False.

Although most Americans will routinely turn their clocks ahead an hour in the spring and back an hour in the fall, polls show that most people don’t fully understand why they’re even doing it. “Daylight Saving Time is so confusing that everything we know about it is wrong,” explains Michael Downing, author of Spring Forward: The Annual Madness of Daylight Saving Time.

Benjamin Franklin is credited with the original concept that came to be known as Daylight Saving Time, when we “spring forward” or turn the clocks ahead an hour around springtime. It was initially intended for people to get the most out of the natural daylight so they could burn fewer candles and later, use less electricity.

Through its implementation during World War I and II, during the 1970s oil embargo crisis, and even today, it’s touted as an energy-saving tool, which is why it was extended most recently through the 2005 Energy Act. The problem is the early studies suggesting that Daylight Saving Time could save energy only looked at home electricity use. More recent reports also factor in gasoline energy use, since people drive more when natural light remains later in the day. “When you give Americans more daylight at the end of the day, they get into their cars,” Downing says. That’s why the petroleum industry has been a longtime supporter of the time change, he adds, noting that the extended after-work sunlight hasn’t been definitively proven to reduce traffic accidents, either, as sometimes claimed. 

Beyond that, a 2008 University of California-Santa Barbara study looking at Indiana—a state that resisted Daylight Saving Time until 2006—found that Daylight Saving Time actually increased residential energy use to the tune of $8.6 million, with the biggest increase in household energy occurring during the autumn months. (This study didn’t even factor in gasoline use.)