From time to time there are calls to move the UK clocks to European Time. A Private Members Bill was introduced earlier this year but was opposed in some areas (and I am getting slightly worried at how often I seem to be agreeing with the Daily Mail) and has now been shelved. (Although there is still a campaign group supporting it and a Private Members Bill going through Parliament to investigate potential costs and benefits of advancing time by one hour for all, or part of, the year.) This, we are told, would result in longer, lighter evenings and, indeed, this is true. What is not mentioned is that it would also result in longer, darker mornings because you can't save time - all you can do is rob the dawn to give to the dusk. So what does this mean in practice?
Well, let's assume that we have to get up every morning for work or school, and we set our alarm clock for 7am. Looking at the data for 2011 - shown in the chart - then our alarm will sound before sunrise until 26th February and - because of British Summer Time (BST) - from 4th October, with a brief reprieve when the clocks change back to Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) The dates are highlighted in yellow in the chart. I do appreciate that the difference in available light when the sun rises at 06:01 and 05:59 is barely noticeable but whether or not you need to turn the lights on, when you get up in the morning, depends on a number of factors, including the weather, which are difficult to quantify so I've chosen to just look at the time of the sun rise.
One option is to stick to BST all year round. In 1968 a three-year experiment was initiated to do just this. While people did enjoy lighter evenings, there was widespread concern about the darker mornings - I can actually remember being issued with fluorescent arm-bands to be worn when walking to school in the dark! OK, probably less of a problem now most children are driven to school. But it is worth remembering that, during 1969, there was mounting opposition to year-round BST and the experiment was abandoned in 1970.
Would it make a difference to us now? Well, looking at the data then it would mean our 7am alarm would be sounding before sunrise until 25th March, but would make little difference in the Autumn.
But the current proposition is not to stick with BST all year round, but to move totally to European Time. This means BST all year round with Double Summer Time in the Summer. Again this has been tried before - it was introduced to help the war effort in 1941 but, while it was accepted during the war, it was extremely unpopular in some areas, including the North of the UK and among farmers, so was abandoned as soon as the war ended.
So, what would this mean for those of us getting up in the morning? Well, with Double Summer Time, our 7am alarm would now be sounding before sun rise until 21st April and from 27th August (days marked in red on the chart).
But Ipswich is reasonably far South in the UK and is a long way to the East, what about other places within the United Kingdom? Well, Cardiff, being further West currently doesn't see sun rise before 7am until 28th February which, with year round BST would change to 28th March and with Double Summer Time would stay until 24th April.
The dates for sunrise are not all that much different for Edinburgh. However, the problem Scotland has is not just the number of days when the sun rises after 7am, but how late the sun rises in the Winter. For this year, the latest sunrise will be 08:33 on 16th January, but the sunrise will be after 8am until 5th February and from 5th November. But if we are on year-round BST, this means the sun will be rising after 9am for three months of the year! Not only will children be walking/driven to school in the dark, but they will also be sitting in dark classrooms for the start of the school-day!
We are told that moving to European Standard Time, with its lighter evenings will reduce road accidents and power consumption. However, in 1974 the USA went to Summer Time four months earlier than normal - on January 6th - in an effort to save oil. The Department of Transportation (DoT) used this period to compare energy consumption and accidents with the same two months in the previous year. What they found was a 0.75% reduction in energy consumption in January and February and a 1% reduction in March and April (from 'Saving the Daylight' by David Prerau). But the DoT acknowledge it was hard to separate the effect of changing the clocks from other factors (such as voluntary reduction in energy usage because of the oil crises). On the vexed subject of road accidents, the DoT found no overall change - there were fewer accidents in the evenings, but these were off-set by more accidents in the morning. Forbes report a range of factors affecting road accident numbers, which include more people engaging in risky behaviour (such as drink-driving) at night than in the day.
When I talk to friends about changing the clocks two of my friends are very keen advocates. One because he wants to be able to play golf in the evenings after work and he does play two or three evenings a week in the Summer evenings. Another wants to be able to sit in the pub garden, in daylight, in the evenings but when I ask how often he'd actually do this, I get no reply! Even if I am being kind, I suspect he would actually do this no more than one evening a week. But for some of us getting up in the dark is a real struggle and, if we work, then we have to do this five days a week through all the months when the sun rises after the alarm goes off. If we want to hold on to full-time jobs then there is no choice about this, no option to say, "I won't get up until it's light and go in to the office at 10:30."