Longer daylight hours could eliminate “stress, anxiety and drunk drivers” during evening commutes but accidents may become more common.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on March 18, 2023. It has since been updated.
In the early 1970s, America was facing an energy crisis, so the government executed an experiment. Congress passed a law to make Daylight Savings Time permanent year-round, beginning on January 6, 1974. The next day, January 7, at 8:27 AM, children in the Washington area left for school in the dark. Florence Bauer of Springfield told Washingtonian that it was "jet black" outside when her daughter was supposed to leave for school. “Some of the children took flashlights with them.” The change was supposed to benefit the nation in the long run, as predicted by Steve Grossman of the Department of Transportation.
Right, but it should be! Nixon instituted year-round Daylight Saving Time in 1974. Concern about school kids in the dark was a major reason the experiment was ended quickly. pic.twitter.com/diPRTjimH4— Phil Kalina 😐 @email@example.com (@pkalina) March 14, 2022
Longer daylight hours could eliminate “stress, anxiety and drunk drivers” during evening commutes, though accidents may become more common. Robert Yost, the mayor of St. Francis, Kansas, said his town’s council “felt it was time to put our foot down and stop this monkey business.” The idea of permanent Daylight Savings Time has gained popularity once again, and it could be helpful to know what happened when the US tried to mess with time. On December 14, 1973, President Nixon signed a bill to put the US on Daylight Savings Time for two years. The DST was followed during World War II as a measure to save fuel. Paul Mullinax, a geographer who worked at the Pentagon, came up with the idea of putting the continental US in a single time zone.
Daylight saving time returns to the U.S. on Sunday and is scheduled to end in early November as usual unless Congress decides it's time for a change. https://t.co/rzL8lE8ls7 pic.twitter.com/p1z74Ycc82— CBS Sunday Morning 🌞 (@CBSSunday) March 10, 2023
“USA Time" would apply from Bangor to Barstow, eliminate jet lag and standardize TV schedules. The idea was tractioned in Congress via a bill from US Representative Patsy Mink of Hawaii. “The human being is a very adaptive animal,” he said. “There is no reason we have to be a slave to the sun.”
If anything, the early-morning darkness quickly was a danger for children. A 6-year-old Alexandria girl broke her leg after being hit by a car on her way to Polk Elementary School on January 7. Two students from Prince George’s County were hurt, and eight Florida kids were killed in traffic accidents. “It’s time to recognize that we may well have made a mistake,” US Senator Dick Clark of Iowa noted during a speech in Congress on January 28, 1974.
I’m happy to stop switching but it should stay standard time. The health/sleep experts agree. Further, we tried permanent Daylight Saving Time in the Nixon administration. The two year trial ended early because it was an abject failure.— Robert Ball (@rball490) March 12, 2023
Nixon tried year-round DST and it did not go over well. At the time, Pat Oliphant drew a cartoon (that I can't find) of two kids waiting in the dark for their school bus. One of the kids says something to the effect of, "They should impeach him for Daylight Saving Time." https://t.co/QKVFk3t382— Mike Brown (@1MikeBrown) March 11, 2019
There were voices on both sides of this argument. The National Safety Council reported that "pre-sunrise fatalities" had increased from 18 to 20 the year before. On the other hand, one House staff member commented, “There seemed to be some indication that there were more deaths and everyone got a little nervous.” Roger Sant, then assistant administrator-designate for the Federal Energy Administration, said in a letter that "1 percent energy saving achieved by going to DST equated to 20,000-30,000 tons of coal not being burned each day."
Eventually, after the Watergate scandal that led to the obliteration of the Nixon administration from 1972 to 1974, the country decided to put an end to its clock experiments.
Around 79 percent of Americans approved of the change in December 1973, but it soon dropped to 42 percent three months later, according to the NY Times. When Nixon resigned, US Senator Bob Dole of Kansas introduced an amendment in August that ended the DST experiment. Congress passed another bill in late September that ensured that the US would go back to standard time on October 27. President Ford signed it on October 5, and a House panel noted, it “must be balanced against a majority of the public’s distaste for the observance of Daylight Saving Time.”