For a while now, the Express has been running it’s “Time for Change Crusade“, in favour of Britain changing to Single-Double Summer Time (SDST) so we are 2 hours ahead of GMT in summer and one hour ahead in winter – equivalent to moving time zone by one hour from Western European Time to Central European Time (CET) (previous posts on the subject here) . A few weeks ago, The Sun too declared that it too wanted to “save Britain from Daylight Robbery“. Well, now a rival has stepped up to the plate;* via the medium of Peter Hitchens, the Mail has begun its “British Time Campaign” to stop the UK moving to CET (or “Berlin Time”, as they call it in flagrant violation of Godwin’s law).
Both sides are sadly up to their usual tricks in favour of their position to ludicrous extents – the Daily Express claims they have the backing of 29 million people based on a survey of a few thousand while the Daily Mail claims that people who support the change are useful idiots to some sort of evil “Bratwurst-eating” Frankfurt conspiracy.
So, in the interests of fair debate, here are the facts, laid out in as neutral a way as I can:**
Argument for: A change in time zone would reduce traffic deaths.
- When the UK tried year-round summer time in 1968-71 (not quite the same as the time zone shift currently proposed), the number of road deaths per winter decreased by 230, and the number of serious injuries dropped by 870. This coincided with the introduction of anti-drink driving campaigns and changes in road use – taking these into account, Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) found that between 104 and 138 lives would have been saved per year overall by the change in the clocks each year between 1991 and 1994.
- Road deaths decreased most in the south of the country (Parliament Standard Note, PDF, p.5), with the effect lessening the further north and west you went. Nevertheless, only the northernmost parts Scotland actually had an increase in deaths.
- Deaths in the morning increased while deaths in the evening decreased. Overall, lives saved in the evening outweighed lives lost in the morning (TRL).
- The change disproportionately put children at risk however – children tend to walk to and from school while adults drive or use public transport to work, and since schools close earlier than workplaces, fewer lives were saved in the evening among children. This perceived unfairness was one of the deciding factors in killing year-long summer time (Parliament Standard Note, p. 6).
- When Portugal moved to CET in the nineties, insurance companies reported a rise, not a fall, in accidents (Parliament Standard Note, p 14-15). I can’t find fatality statistics however.
- Edit: John Ruddy in the comments points to the actual accident data for 1968-1972 which doesn’t appear to show any clear trend. In fact, fatalities spiked between 1969 and 1973.
Argument for: Double summer time would make us healthier.
- Logically, lighter evenings would mean more people would be able to exercise in the evenings – particularly vulnerable or elderly people attending evening exercise classes. On the flipside, later sunrises would be a problem for anyone who takes morning jogs. One expert claims that for the average person, this would mean potentially 300 extra hours of outdoor activity overall, but since that would mean an extra hour of exercise every day that sounds a little optimistic.
- One study found late sunrises seem to be linked to a decrease in depression.
- However, another study found no connection between clock changes and mental health.
- An increase in exposure to sunlight in the evenings – when people are more likely to be outside – may reduce seasonal affective disorder and prevent vitamin D deficiency. Of course, the total amount of sunlight remains the same, but this might result in it being used more efficiently (Parliament Standard Note, p. 10-11).
Argument for: Moving to CET/SDST would decrease the “chaos” associated with clock changes.
- This is a bit of a stupid argument. CET/SDST still has clock changes, they just happen an hour later. That argument would only support year-round summer time, which no party is currently proposing.
Argument for: SDST would mean warmer and lighter evenings in the summer, saving energy.
- Researchers believe that moving to SDST would reduce the UK’s carbon emissions by 450,000 tonnes, since less lighting and heating would be needed in the evenings. More would be needed in the mornings, of course, but the fact that we spend most of the dark hours of the morning asleep means that overall, energy should be saved.
- During the Portuguese experiment, energy savings were reported, though the saving to the economy was modest compared to the cost of the change (Parliament Standard Note, p. 14-15).
- Studies in America however found that when Indiana moved from standard time to summer time – in effect, bringing sunrise forward an hour – energy use actually increased. However, this appears to be due in part to air conditioning – more common in American homes than British ones. Additionally, this only measured the effect of moving time zone in the summer, rather than all year round.
Argument for: Lighter evenings would reduce crime.
- It certainly makes sense, and in surveys, people unsurprisingly say they feel safer on lighter evenings. However, no crime data appears to exist to back up the claim either way.
Argument for: Lighter evenings would provide children more time to study.
- When Portugal moved to to CET, this was proposed as a reason for the change.
- However, late sunsets in the summer seemed to negatively affect children’s sleep cycles. Overall, it seems to have been slightly detrimental to learning (Parliament Standard Note, p. 14-15).
Argument for: Bringing our clocks into sync with Europe would help the economy.
- We’d no longer have a clock change when crossing the Channel; Eurostar and short-haul air timetables would become simpler without having to take time zones into account. It’s not clear how this would actually help the economy however. On the other hand, unless the Republic of Ireland changed its clocks too, cross border travel would involve a time zone change, making train and ferry timetables very slightly more complicated. Again, it’s not clear whether this would really have any effect beyond minor annoyance though.
- Assuming it’s reasonable to take a teleconference call as early as 8 AM or as late as 6 PM, we currently have 9 hours overlap with most of Europe, 5 hours overlap with New York, 2 hours overlap with LA, 1 hour overlap with Tokyo and 2 hours overlap with Beijing. Moving to CET would give us an hour more with countries in the eastern hemisphere – Europe, most of Africa, Asia and Oceania – but an hour less with countries in the western hemisphere – North and South America. Our compatibility with Japan and China would increase, but our connection to the US western seaboard would become tenuous.
And now, the rebuttals:
Argument against: Dark mornings would harm farmers, postmen and other professions who have to start work very early in the morning.
- During the summer time experiment, the National Farmers Union was one of the most vocal opponents to the change, for precisely this reason.
- However, an increase in automated machinery on farms (industrial milking machines for instance) means early morning work isn’t so important, and the NFU has withdrawn its opposition (Parliament Standard Note, p. 10).
Argument against: The changes would help England (especially the south east) but at the expense of harming Scotland.
- Scotland, being both further north and further west than most of the UK, would bear the brunt of a later sunrise, with the sunrise in some areas being as late as 10 AM. Northern Ireland and north west England would suffer to an extent too.
- Northern Scotland recorded an increase in road traffic deaths during the experiment. However, southern Scotland and northern England both reported a decrease (I can’t find the data for Northern Ireland).
- During the experiment, Scots reported the lowest satisfaction with year-round summer time. However, even there, people were evenly split on the change, rather than there being overwhelming public opinion against it.
Argument against: The number of hours of daylight are fixed – trying to mess with the sunrise is as useless as Canute trying to hold back the tide.
- This is of course true to an extent. However, since people generally wake up at around 7 AM (five hours before midday) but don’t go to bed until 10 or 11 PM (ten or eleven hours after midday), people experience a lot more darkness in the evenings than in the mornings.
- As some of the arguments for show, balancing out the darkness between mornings and evenings could well have a positive effect on people’s lives.
Argument against: This is part of some sort of evil European Union conspiracy to resurrect the Nazi German empire (yes, really, that’s what Peter Hitchens suggests).***
- Don’t be stupid.
- This bill has been proposed by British MPs and Lords, not representatives of Europe. As far as I can tell, the EU has no opinions on time zones as long as the clock changes are synchronised – after all, Portugal and Ireland are in the same time zone as us without EU complaint, and Greece, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Bulgaria, Cyprus and Romania (Edit: and Finland) all reside quite happily in Eastern European Time (two hours ahead of us, and one hour ahead of CET).
In conclusion… well. The arguments for and the arguments against are fairly even, with a good mix of rubbish on both sides. You could draw a number of conclusions from that, but one you certainly couldn’t draw is that it’s anywhere near as clear as either the Mail or the Express claim.
* Of course, one newspaper had already come out in opposition to the plans – that newspaper being the Scottish version of the Express. Lovely joined up thinking there.
** Disclaimer of my position: I think an experiment would be a good idea, but the evidence so far is not strong enough to support a permanent change, and the problem of the effect on Scotland would need to be worked out first.
*** The relevant quote:
First in 1914, and with redoubled force after 1940, the conquered nations of the Continent were instructed rather sharply to shift their clocks forward to suit the needs of German soldiers and German railways and German business.
A map of the present Central European Time Zone looks disturbingly like a map of a certain best-forgotten empire of 70 years ago.
This is a bit like saying that since a map of the countries most badly hit by SARS – Canada, Hong Kong, Singapore and parts of China – looks a little bit like a map of the British Empire, SARS was therefore clearly part of an ongoing British conspiracy to take over the world.