The Case for Adapting Daylight Savings in Britain

We all get it. You enjoy the once-a-year night where you get an extra hour of sleep. But is there much joy in the rise in seasonal depression, crime, and car accidents? That is the question we must ask ourselves when we examine the impact of using daylight savings time in Britain. Is it worth that extra hour of sleep once a year for 5 months of darker, gloomier evenings?  

The concept of daylight savings was first proposed in the late 18th century and introduced in Britain during the First World War in 1916. The idea behind it is fairly simple: we borrow an hour during the summer from the morning to the evening and take an hour from the evening to the morning during the winter. Typically, Britain runs on Greenwich Mean Time from late October to late March, and British Summer Time (BST) from late March to late October. During BST the sun sets an hour later, meaning that evenings are longer and brighter than during Greenwich Mean Time.

Research indicates that switching to British Summer Time all year round would reduce road fatalities. Data in Switzerland suggests that the week after the clocks go back there is a 10-15% rise in car accidents. The Royal Society for Prevention of Accidents in the UK themselves have called for the clocks to be permanently moved forward to make it lighter and reduce the risk of car accidents. An American study showed that keeping the clocks an hour forward would eliminate 13% of pedestrian fatalities. 

Recent research also suggests that keeping BST all year round would benefit general health. A study in Denmark in 2017 found that the annual switch from summer to standard time was linked with a rise in seasonal depressive disorders. Increased hours of darkness can lead to fatigue and weakened body strength due to deficiencies in sun-activated vitamin D. Another study concluded that more daylight, after the clocks moved forward, meant that people spent up to an extra half an hour outdoors burning extra calories. In keeping BST all year round, we would avoid the nationwide sleep adjustments when the clocks spring forward in March, which are linked with rises in heart attacks and strokes. 

Beyond improving general health, switching to BST permanently would reduce crime and anti-social behaviour. The earlier it gets dark, the more unsafe the streets become during active hours and this can lead to higher rates of assault. A 2012 report in America found that the spring clock shifting an hour forward led to huge reductions in crime, including a 51% reduction in robberies, and a 48% reduction in murders. Political parties often talk about keeping our streets safer. One simple solution is to have extra time for sunlight! 

This isn’t a new concept. In the late 60’s, Britain trialled using British Summer Time all year round, from 1968 until 1971. While analysis from the experiment has been debated and ultimately disregarded, it did show that there was a net reduction in the number of road casualties as a result - proving in practice the benefits.

We can look worldwide for inspiration as well. The US Senate recently passed a bill, The Sunshine Protection Act, that would do exactly this: moving from the US Standard Time into permanent Daylight Savings Time. The bill garnered rare bipartisan support from senators from Florida to Massachusetts, with supporters on all sides citing the beneficial impacts it would have on mental health, crime, and road safety. The bill was passed unanimously, however has stalled since, despite it being supported by all, from President Trump (yes, really) to progressive Democrat Senator Ed Markey. Who knew that more sunlight could truly bring together the US Senate? The fact that other countries are going for it only furthers the notion that the UK should too!  

However, attempts at this have yet to be successful. A private member’s bill, introduced in Parliament in 2010 by Rebecca Harris MP, to move to permanent BST, was filibustered out of parliament (despite consideration by Prime Minister Cameron) and anything similar is yet to be seen. Perhaps it is time for the new foreign secretary to reignite this timely debate?

The evidence is overwhelmingly clear - more sunlight brings more outdoor activity, fewer car accidents, lower rates of depression, and most importantly brighter evenings for all! It is time once and for all to end the absurdity of changing the clocks twice a year and move out of the industrial and into the modern. It is time for British politicians to move on with this popular proposal and give Britain back its sunshine!

All articles and opinions posted give the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Leeds Think Tank, the Leeds University Union, or the University of Leeds.