And therein lies the problem: People are so wired now that it seems they can't do anything without the aid of technology. Sure, the airlines and places like financial institutions had to plunk down some bucks to make sure everything would continue to run smoothly. But is one hour, a month longer, really that big a deal—especially given the potential benefits?
No problem. The reality is that we've adjusted to longer Daylight Saving times before and we will again, Markey says. To wit: Congress also extended it after the 1973 oil embargo. In 1974, Daylight Saving Time began on Jan. 6 and in 1975 on Feb. 23. During those two years, the U.S. Department of Transportation found that extending Daylight Saving Time saved the equivalent of 10,000 barrels of oil a day. After those two years, however, the start date reverted back to the last Sunday in April (mostly because farmers weren't keen on the extended schedule).
In 1985, Daylight Saving Time was again pushed up because of oil woes, this time by three weeks. A year later, Congress passed a law that permanently shifted the start date of Daylight Saving Time to the first Sunday in April; the end date remained the last Sunday in October.
"Some people have said that this change in Daylight Saving Time will be like a mini version of the Y2K problem. I believe those people are right—just as, after all the hype, Y2K turned out to be a 'non-problem,' Daylight Saving Time is likely to end up being a 'mini-non-problem," Markey said. "The reason for that is that the technology community has been busy making the software changes needed to ensure that clocks move to the right time."
The big question is: Will the change be worth it? Critics grump not, that more people will be driving around during the extra daylight hours and staying out later, using even more electricity. What's more, they complain, children will have to go to school in the dark (no matter that they already do in some places).
Energy savings: According to the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE), by 2020 the extension has the potential to cumulatively save consumers over $4.4 billion, eliminate the need to build more than three medium-sized (300-megawatt) coal-fired power plants, reduce natural gas consumption by 279 billion cubic feet, and prevent 10.8 million metric tons of the carbon emissions that lead to global warming.
"These savings come about because people consume less electricity in the evening if it's still light, and that cuts electricity use during peak demand in the early evening hours," Markey said. "It almost seems too good to be true that we could realize such benefits from such a small change. But it really works." Another plus, he said, is that research by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety shows that extending Daylight Saving Time could "help prevent pedestrian deaths and injuries, because adding an hour of light to the afternoon increases the visibility of both vehicles and pedestrians."
Some studies dispute the energy savings would be as great. A recent analysis by the California Energy Commission, for instance, concluded that the change would shift&rather than reduce—electricity use to off peak hour. The report said that electricity use could dip by 0.5 percent—or less. A shift to off peak electricity use still has the advantage of lowering the capacity requirements for utilities, but it's questionable whether the savings would be as much as the ACEEE estimates.
The bottom line: If the switch doesn't work, there's an escape hatch in the law that gives Congress the option to go back in time, so to speak, to the way we were. But for now, Daylight Saving Time is starting early. So come 2 a.m. March 11, hopefully you turned your clock ahead an hour. Or, even better, you lost the hour before you hit the hay the night before so that when you woke up, you weren't surprised—or late.