Making the case for lighter evenings: tackling the concerns

The clock is ticking on the Daylight Saving Bill

RoSPA is campaigning for a change to the current daylight savings system, calling for the UK to be brought into Single/Double Summer Time (SDST) which would see us move one hour ahead throughout the year – to GMT+1 in the winter, and GMT+2 in the summer.

We understand the concerns that many people will have about this. In this blog, chief executive Tom Mullarkey answers the frequently asked questions and concerns.

What exactly are we asking for?

At the outset, we should explain what we and other campaigners are asking for: A UK-wide trial of at least two years in which we can gather unequivocal evidence on the benefits and disbenefits of a Single/Double Daylight Saving regime or SDST. This would effectively put our clocks one hour ahead of where we are now (to GMT+1 in the winter and GMT+2 in the summer). If the evidence is solid and shows that this idea doesn’t work, we would abide by it. But the vast majority of the current evidence already points to the fact that it would work – hence the need to make the first step – the trial.

Don’t like dark mornings/Prefer dark evenings.

Some people see the proposed change as inconvenient or believe that the current daylight regime is safer than SDST. The move could reduce road deaths by around 80 per year, and serious injuries by around 212 per year. If we can do that, and prevent the incredible heartache and suffering that these road accidents cause, the perceived inconvenience of darker mornings and lighter evenings would be a small price to pay. When we ask people if they think their preference should take priority over making a change which could help to save lives, they generally agree that the experiment would be justified.

lollipopI don’t want my kids going to school in the dark.

There are two peak times for casualty rates involving child pedestrians – during the school runs at 8am and 3.30p.m. However, the afternoon casualty peak is around four times higher. Casualty rates increase with the arrival of darker evenings, so ensuring children are walking home in daylight will help to reduce the number needlessly dying or being injured. But to be clear, there is a potential rise in morning road casualties to children, which is, however, more than offset by the evening reduction – the net figure is the key calculation.

People who say they don’t want their kids to go to school in darkness are expressing a preference, but an argument which surely trumps that is that we don’t want our children to be harmed – and SDST increases the opportunities for us to achieve this. And once again, wherever you live in the UK, children have to go to school in darkness in midwinter, though a change to SDST would make this less significant.

There’s nothing wrong with the current system.

The current system was established long ago – our work/life patterns have evolved considerably since then – and needs to be updated. We are no longer an agricultural economy and the dependence on morning daylight is much less important in the 21st century. Equally, nowadays our evenings are when we get free time, and these are ‘shortened’ by darkness, so we need to make the adjustment to account for modern lifestyles. Road casualty rates currently increase with the arrival of darker evenings and worsening weather conditions. Every autumn when the clocks go back, and sunset occurs earlier in the day, road casualties rise, and the effects are worse for the most vulnerable road users such as children, the elderly, cyclists and motorcyclists.

In 2012, pedestrian deaths rose from 32 in September to 40 in October, 38 in November and 61 in December. In 2013, this number jumped from 38 in September and October, to 53 in November and 51 in December. And in 2014, it rose from 39 in October to 66 in November and 73 in December. The effect of moving the clocks back in the autumn is immediate and obvious and we can easily see how to prevent these deaths. We are effectively allowing these people to die, and many others to receive serious, life-changing injuries, when we could intervene, and this gives me and many others, a real sense of moral frustration.

There’s no evidence this would work.

There is a mountain of evidence that this would work – and very little against the benefits of the change. For those old enough to remember, an experiment was actually carried out between 1968 and 1971. British Standard Time, which is GMT+1, was employed year-round for that period, and saved around 2,500 deaths and serious injuries for each year of the experiment. It was curtailed early because a (unknown) number of people wrote to their MPs and complained – this was hardly a democratic decision. Additionally, the final figures on casualty reduction were not collated until 1973, by which time it was all too late. With almost instant opinion polls and modern road accident data-gathering techniques, these issues would simply not arise today – which is why we need to repeat the experiment using SDST.

clock_alarmIt would be bad for farmers/builders/postmen.

From discussions with farming bodies, it is clear that working practices have changed so much since the 1968-71 experiment that the limitations on animal husbandry in the darker hours is no longer as significant as it was then. Practices with farm machinery have also changed significantly. The National Farmers’ Union in Scotland, formerly one of the strongest opponents of SDST, is no longer opposed to the change, and would not stand in the way of an experiment. Builders adjust their days to available daylight. Postmen deliver later in the day than in 1971.

If people want to change when they get up and go to bed, they can, without changing the clocks.

For any group, the option to adjust working hours to take available daylight into account exists now, as it would in the proposed regime. By the same token, this argument undermines the ‘status quo’ position. We’ve had interesting discussions around adjusting school hours in winter, to take available daylight into account, for example. As a society, we should be creative and flexible in the way we implement any regime – but the established rigidity of working/school hours greatly limits the opportunity to give our people access to the available daylight, particularly when it is in short supply in the winter.

It would be bad for people living in the North/West/Scotland.

This is not really a North-South debate as the majority of us broadly share the same longitudinal position and our country lies on a North-South axis. It could certainly be an East-West debate and people in Northern Ireland and the Western Isles make a good point – some aspects of SDST on them might prove negative – but again there are potential adjustments that could be made to working hours etc, which need to be explored. However, if we are to share one time zone (and most people think we should), then it would make sense to optimise time for the benefit of the vast majority and so there needs to be a balance of interests. But overall, as a society, we would gain a lot, even the people who live out west.

However, I would add a point regarding the North-South argument which is the principal stumbling block to change. The further north you live, the less your available winter daylight and so the more important it is to optimise that daylight – the current regime squanders morning daylight and limits winter evening daylight, so a move to SDST would benefit people in the north the most. The many other benefits of SDST (see below) would be felt more keenly in the north and so there is more to be gained for those living in the higher latitudes of the UK, by making the change. This is the reverse of what we are generally told, but it does make sense – the further north you live, the more precious is the optimisation of your winter daylight.

It would only be good for the English/We don’t want the English telling us what to do.

Actually, the English gain the least proportionately (but they still gain) because they already have slightly more winter daylight. But just to be clear, nobody in the UK has much winter daylight, particularly around the solstice. More people’s lives would be saved on English roads but that is because of the higher population. As a proportion of population, Scotland would gain more lives saved and injuries prevented, and achieve a greater proportion of the other benefits of SDST. Rather than couch the argument this way, why not change it around and ask why is it that the Westminster Parliament is preventing Scotland from achieving its proportionally greater gains?

Are there other potential benefits?

Apart from the life-saving argument we espouse (and surely that should be the weightiest), we believe that SDST would benefit the whole of the UK, in many other ways. Here are a few of the other benefits:

  • It has been estimated that the switch would reduce CO2 pollution by at least 447,000 tonnes each year, equivalent to the emissions of 50,000 cars driving around the world and roughly the same energy contribution as the city of Edinburgh. The CO2 reduction equates to about 80% of all renewable energy currently generated.
  • The additional use of fuel in the current regime increases costs for business and households. Estimates suggest that with SDST, those in southern England would save 1-2% of their fuel bills, while those on Scotland could save as much as 3%. Why are we burning energy unnecessarily, when there is a simple, no-cost alternative?
  • There would be a substantial boost to UK inbound tourism by an estimated £1billion per annum thanks to an extended tourism season, boosting overall tourism earnings by an estimated £3billion and increasing jobs by 60,000-80,000.
  • Our ageing population would be encouraged to leave their houses more often, take more exercise, have a better quality of life and retain their independence for longer – older people want to be home before dark and so effectively are curfewed by the morning rush hour and the evening darkness. Moving the evening darkness would be a great help to them.
  • Opportunistic crime facilitated by early evening darkness would be reduced (not just displaced) – more than half of criminal offences take place during the hours of darkness in the late afternoon or evening, coinciding with rush hour.   More of those exposure hours in daylight would limit criminal activity.
  • There would be an average gain of 55 minutes ‘accessible’ daylight every day across the UK, encouraging outdoor activity and increasing health. Studies have shown that winter darkness is the biggest inhibitor to children taking exercise after school (not that they are wedded to TV and game consoles) and extending this opportunity should help to increase child health, particularly reducing childhood obesity. Scotland would benefit disproportionally compared to England and Wales.
  • There have been quite a few studies on Seasonal Affected Disorder (SAD) which have come out with contradictory results. There is some evidence that increased morning daylight would improve SAD the most. However, few people go outside in the morning (most people just commute to work and school) and so the best way to gain accessible daylight is to adjust it so that it is available during our leisure time in the evenings.
  • As well as SAD, there is a broad correlation between higher rates of obesity, heart disease and suicide, the further north you live. Although I don’t know of any specific studies on this, it just makes sense that these health issues would be improved by giving people more evening/accessible daylight in their daily routines.

It didn’t work in Portugal.

While all available evidence should be considered when making any decision on SDST, the Portugal experiment – when the time zone moved to align with the rest of Europe for four years from 1992 – is not relevant or comparable to the situation in the UK. In Portugal, on the ‘short’ winter days, darkness does not arrive until 5.30pm. In the UK children would reap the benefits of coming home during daylight – including reducing accidents – while that issue did not arise in Portugal. The issue of children not being able to get to sleep and being tired in class was a bit of a myth, as children in Portugal culturally go to bed much later than their British counterparts anyway.

We had to do it in wartime to save energy but the now the war’s over, there’s no need.

The nation does not now ‘need’ to save energy as it did during wartime, but with rising energy bills we are sure households and businesses would appreciate any help they could get to try to save money.  When budgets are tight and there is an easy saving waiting to be taken, why not take it?

euro_flagWe don’t want ‘Berlin time’.

This phrase was coined by one journalist, doing premeditated damage to a good idea, for his own reasons. During both World Wars, we advanced the clocks to save fuel, improve manufacturing productivity and increase efficiency – so why go back to wasteful ways? You might just as well say we don’t want ‘Winston Churchill’ time.

It would additionally be beneficial for businesses to align with Europe. At present, the UK market loses an hour of overlap in the morning with European markets and an hour overlap in the evening. Making the adjustment would increase working hour overlap by 25 per cent. Stock market hours would match Europe, and produce a greater overlap with Asia. Although overlap with North America would be reduced, the EU accounts for more than half of the UK’s foreign trade, much more than North America.

Don’t like changing the clocks twice a year/Why do we have to change the clocks at all?

Because we live 50degrees+ above the equator, we would have to adjust our clocks anyway. There are good arguments for advancing and retarding the clocks more than once a year each way, but for simplicity, most countries go for a one–change regime. In the UK, the only problem at present is that it’s not quite at the right time. If we left the clocks at GMT all year round, during the summer it would get light even earlier in the morning when most of us are asleep, and get dark an hour earlier in the evening, when most of us would want to be out and about. All we’re suggesting is making the annual changes more significant.

There is a multitude of alternative regimes, which could be ‘just as good’ as SDST.

Most campaigners such as RoSPA have agreed that SDST is by far the option which will achieve the greatest benefit for the UK and we work together for this option, which increases its chances of happening.

What do others think?

The most recent polls show that most people are in favour of the change. In Scotland, despite what is said vociferously by some, most people either support the change or are neutral about it.

Why won’t the politicians make the change?

In my view, this subject has simply become a political football, a hostage to the wider debate about Scottish independence. If a Westminster Government supports SDST, critics in Scotland are likely to use that as an illustration of Westminster ‘trying to impose unpopular decisions on the Scottish people’, or so it is feared. And in Scotland, the expectation is that Scottish politicians would actually use this argument. The terrible irony is that this change would benefit us all and the Scottish people the most, but we are all losers because of the wider politics. And we have to remember that since the 1968-71 experiment, over 5,000 people have died and 30,000 been seriously injured because of this intransigence. That is a terrible price to pay for political pragmatism.

Of course a bold move would be for Scotland to seek to make the change on its own – I’m pretty sure the rest of the country would follow in an instant. This elegant solution just needs vision and statesmanship – so please can we have some?

And by the way, there are many MPs, from all parties and all UK countries, who support the SDST proposal – nearly a quarter of all MPs stayed in Westminster on a cold, snowy Friday when most MPs were back in their constituencies and voted for the last Private Members’ Bill on SDST in 2012, tabled by Rebecca Harris, while only a handful voted against. And no progress was made because of a flawed political process – I gave Evidence to the House of Commons Procedure Committee on that – you can read the transcript here…

So what can people do now?

There are plenty of things you can do:

  • Join our campaign….?
  • Write to your MP, telling him or her about why you want them to support the call for a trial. (During Rebecca Harris’s Bill, this was the biggest postbag item for MPs).
  • Write to Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland, urging her to find an elegant and intelligent way to break the deadlock.
  • Spread the word – there’s no better topic for a healthy debate!

Tom Mullarkey_RoSPA chief executive_head and shouldersConclusion

We’re not saying that our view is overwhelmingly correct and that those that disagree are overwhelmingly wrong. But we do believe that most of the evidence and information available points to this being a good idea and one which deserves to be put to the test – with an experiment. I can understand people being opposed to this idea but I can’t understand why anyone would want to stand in the way of actually finding out a truth.

Let’s work together to make this happen. Many lives and much heartache for families and communities depend upon it. If the experiment works, there is quite simply no other way to make us all safer, greener, healthier, wealthier and happier, at a stroke, at no cost.

Tom Mullarkey, RoSPA chief executive

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