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What is the point of turning the clocks back?

Byline: JAMES ORR

IT'S half past four in the afternoon, you look out of the window and it's dark.

You may have enjoyed the extra hour's kip yesterday but now you have to get used to late-afternoon darkness.

Putting the clocks back an hour also hits most of us in the pocket, with extra power needed to light homes and offices. It is also argued that it can be detrimental to our health as we are less likely to take exercise after dark.

Some experts even reckon the October clock-change ends 450 lives a year as the number of road accidents shoot up.

The change from British Summer Time (BST) back to Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) has taken place annually since 1916 when, following wartime enemy Germany's lead, the clocks went back to give farmers more daylight in the morning to work in their fields.

But several organisations, including the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, want a change in the system to allow extra evening daylight all year round.

The proposals would also bring British clocks in line with France, Spain and Germany Historian Alistair Horne backs the proposal, but believes Scotland will need to stick to the current arrangement of "springing forward" and "falling back".

He says: "The Scots do have a problem because, being that much nearer the North Pole, they do have a very short day."

Different time zones across Britain would be nothing new. Until 1880, when GMT became law, different parts of Britain kept different hours.

For example, Truro, Cornwall, was 20 minutes behind London, causing confusion for early train travellers.

Living Streets, a charity that puts pedestrians' interests first, would scrap the practice of putting the clocks back in winter.

"By moving the clocks back and switching the extra hour of darkness from the mornings to early evenings, the number of people killed and seriously injured on our roads gets an annual hike," says Living Streets chief executive Tony Armstrong.

"This trend is especially marked for children and older people, and it is pedestrians who are hit hardest. In September 2008, before we returned to Greenwich Mean Time, there were 577 pedestrians killed or seriously injured in Great Britain.

"As winter set in and evenings got darker, this number shot up, with 720 pedestrians killed or seriously injured in October and 666 in November.

"The most dangerous time on our roads is generally between 3pm and 6pm, when drivers are heading home for the day and children are making their way home from school.

"The current situation actively makes this time period darker, lowering visibility and making streets more hazardous.

"A vital hour of extra light in the evenings would have a major positive effect on communities around Britain.

"Lighter evenings would encourage people to stay out and enjoy their streets, and would make significant improvements to road safety" The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, however, would like to see Britain get in line with many of its trading partners by adopting Central European Time.

"Most of Europe follows CET, which is one hour ahead of GMT in winter and two hours ahead of GMT in summer - always one hour ahead of the UK," says RoSPA chief executive Tom Mullarkey.

"One of the consequences of the UK's system is that more people are killed and injured on the road because of darker evenings in the autumn and winter than would be if we adopted what is called Single/Double British Summertime.

"Changing to SDST would create lighter evenings all year round and result in fewer people being killed and injured in road accidents.

"It would also bring significant environmental, economic and health benefits, the latter being particularly relevant to the concerns about obesity and public health.

"During the week, casualty rates peak at 8am and 5pm for adults and 8am and 3.30pm for children, with the afternoon peak being higher for both.

"The most recent research estimates that adopting SDST would save around 80 lives and prevent 212 serious injuries a year.

"The Department for Transport has confirmed that moving to lighter evenings would prevent about 80 deaths on the road a year.

"There would be a one-off cost of about pounds 5million to publicise the change but then benefits of around pounds 138m per year, as well as energy savings, business benefits and more opportunities for sport and leisure."

There are still several groups, including Scottish farmers, who argue for maintaining the status quo National Farmers' Union Scotland policy director Scott Walker says: "Every time the nation comes to put the clocks forward or back, it generates debate on whether the UK should continue with the practice.

"At NFU Scotland, we do not believe sufficient justification has yet been given to make a change to either putting the clocks forward in the spring or putting them back again at this time of year.

"While the problems farmers face from trying to go about their business in the dark are now fewer than in the past, due to increased use of modern technology and lighting, the issue remains one of concern for farming and the whole rural community of which they are a part.

"By not putting the clocks back, being able to start field work in the morning would be delayed and livestock farmers looking to feed their cattle and sheep would also be inconvenienced by the extended period of morning darkness.

"While many are happy to throw in their tuppenceworth on this issue, NFU Scotland has been a bit more proactive in trying to inform the debate.

"We have met RoSPA representatives and asked them to carry out an assessment of any impact that changes to daylight length would have on the way Scotland's farmers and crofters go about producing food and whether those changes would affect their ability to care for their animals or grow their crops in a safe manner."

NORTH SOUTH DIVIDE

*Day length refers to the time between sunrise and sunset. Darkness falls after a period of twilight which varies in length depending on a number of astronomical factors.

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PRETTY Sunrise TWILIGHT ZONE Afternoon sunset falls on Bristol
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Article Details
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Oct 26, 2009
Words:1027
Previous Article:Watch the watchmen.
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