We in the U.S. turned our clocks back this week, ending Daylight Saving Time until next year. DST gets a lot of flak from the public. It confuses us for two days every year, and pseudoscientific myths surround it. For better or worse, making DST permanent has become politically popular now. But that may not be a bad thing, at least not for biking and walking.
Popular Mechanics published this article last spring, “Daylight Saving Time Is Actually a Good Thing,” which challenges the notion that DST’s benefits are only imaginary. Its thesis boils down to this: more of us go outside in the evening than in the morning, so giving us more daylight during that time helps us stay happy and safe. The list of activities that decrease during DST months includes: crime, traffic crashes, and watching TV. On the other hand, the outdoor industry benefits from it.
The article cites scientific studies to back-up this claim, but I think the basic idea seems obvious. We all go outside more when it’s light and less when it’s dark. Daylight makes us safer, both in the outdoors and in car traffic. Without daylight, we just say inside and watch TV.
I’ve met numerous bicycle riders who avoid biking at night, and we all know how unsafe it can feel walking outside in the dark. If we had the power to give these people more sunlight, then why shouldn’t we do that?
We all don’t like changing our clocks twice a year, but if Daylight Saving Time was permanent, then that wouldn’t be a problem anymore. That is what the Sunshine Protection Act proposes. The act is currently stalled in congress, but several states are now pushing to do the same thing themselves.
So, does DST help biking and walking? I don’t have any hard evidence, but only because I’m not aware of anyone who tried to measure it yet. However, that hypothesis is consistent with the similar studies I’ve seen. With the possibility of permanent DST on our horizon, I believe that we would be remiss to not test this theory.