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Ask The Times: Does daylight saving save time? Theories vary widely
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If you’ve been wondering about something in your community, Ask The Times is your place to get answers. The following questions were submitted by readers and answered through the efforts of our news staff.

Why do we have daylight saving time?

The U.S. Department of Transportation, which regulates daylight saving time, lists a few reasons for that annoying “spring forward” and “fall back” that throw your sleep schedule for a loop.

No. 1 is that it saves energy. The idea is that with the sun setting an hour later, households don’t need to use as much electricity for lighting the house. And because the sun rises early in the morning during the summer, people don’t need to turn on lights then, either, according to the DOT.

Some have questioned that theory, though, most notably a professor of economics and a doctoral student in environmental science and management, both at the University of California.

Matthew J. Kotchen and Laura E. Grant examined household data, including monthly billing data for the vast majority of households in southern Indiana for three years, and found that the time change actually increased residential electricity demand by about 1 percent. That increase was slightly higher during the fall, which the scientists contributed to a trade-off for heating and cooling demand even if demand for lighting may have decreased.

Much of Indiana did not practice daylight saving time before 2006, offering the opportunity for the study, which was done in late 2008 and published in 2011 in The Review of Economics and Statistics, a journal of applied economics edited at the Harvard Kennedy School.

That study has been widely quoted as one of the best indicators in a field where very little research has been done.

Shortly before that study, the Energy Policy Act of 2005 extended daylight saving time to further reduce energy consumption, lengthening it by about a month.

The DOT does list a couple of other reasons for the time change, though. It allows most travel to be done during daylight hours, which could reduce traffic accidents. The DOT also claims more daylight hours reduces crime.

“More people are out conducting their affairs during the daylight rather than at night, when more crime occurs,” the DOT website says.

In any case, we’ll be springing forward in the early hours Sunday morning so don’t forget to change your clocks. It’s always a good idea to change the batteries in your smoke detectors at about this time, too.

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