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When do the clocks go forward and what does it mean for motorists?

The clocks change twice every year in the UK, once in the Spring to add an hour (known as British Standard Time or BST) and then once in the Autumn to lose an hour so we’re once again on Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). We do this is to give us more daylight in the summer months, hence the term ‘daylight savings’.

Back in 1907, English builder William Willett thought that moving the clocks 20 minutes forward on the four Sundays in April and then doing the opposite on four Sundays in September would help make people happier. At first, the bill was rejected but in 1917 an Act of Parliament made it all official and we’ve the used the system ever since. 

When will the clocks go back in 2013?

The clocks will go back an hour on Sunday the 27th of October at 2am (the last Sunday of the month). So effectively you will be getting one less hour of sleep but you will be back on good-old GMT.

What does putting the clocks back mean for motorists?

It means afternoons are darker and therefore visibility is reduced at a time when drivers are coming home from work and pedestrians such as school kids and parents are roaming the streets. At this time of year the weather is colder and potentially more difficult to drive in, so the faster onset of darkness only serves to make roads more dangerous.

How much of an effect does the system have on motorists?

A survey by car accident company Smart Witness found 70.8 per cent of drivers want to abolish BST for a number of reasons, most of which revolve around safety. The Department for Transport estimates a stop to putting the clocks back would prevent about 80 road deaths every year, with little financial cost involved.

Is there evidence to support this?

Figures from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) show a sharp increase in pedestrian deaths in 2011. The death toll rose from 25 deaths in September to 34 in October and 65 in December.

There was also a trial period where the UK avoided putting the clocks back from 1968 to 1971. Over that time, a reduction in deaths and injuries was recorded.

So what are the alternatives?

One of the proposed replacements would see the UK running closer to Central European Time, as it would have the added benefit of helping with trade between the UK and Europe.

RoSPA wants to replace British Standard Time with a system called Single Double British Summertime. This would entail GMT+2 between March and October, giving us a good summer with plenty of daylight, and GMT+1 from October to March so our afternoons are lighter.

67.2 per cent of respondents of the Smart Witness survey agreed it would make sense to be more in line with Europe. The Government also saw merit in the idea as a bill received ministerial backing in 2011 that would see a change come into fruition, but it was shot down shortly after.

What are the other implications?

That extra hour in the winter would allow people to get outdoors for longer, which has personal well-being and tourism benefits. More daylight in the winter means more people spend money on products and services. 

There’s also the environment to consider: a study by Cambridge University from 2010 estimated around 500,000 tonnes of CO2 could be saved if the UK was an hour ahead of GMT in the winter. This is because research found lower peak electricity demand when evenings are lighter, a fact backed up by the National Grid. It would also mean sports stadiums would be able to turn their floodlights on later.

Research has also found dark wintery mornings make commuters more depressed and that some motorists try to rush home to catch some daylight, which may increase the likelihood of crashing.

How could a new system be implemented?

To change over from BST, the clocks would stay as they are in October and would go forward in the following March by an hour, giving us GMT +2. Come October the clocks would be put back one hour, giving us that extra hour of daylight when we need it.

Image: Flickr

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