Why Does Daylight Saving Time Start at 2 A.M.?

As the saying goes: spring forward, fall back, but why doesn't that happen at midnight?

At 2 a.m. on Sunday, March 8, most of America will turn their clocks forward to start daylight saving time in the annual tradition beloved by some and bemoaned by others. But wouldn’t midnight make a more practical start time? Why, of all random starts, 2 a.m? Find out why we have daylight saving time in the first place.

First things first: What is daylight saving time (DST)?

On the second Sunday in March each year, clocks are set forward one hour at 2 a.m., designed to make better use of daylight while people are awake. (In the fall, by contrast, clocks are set back, leading to the popular and easy-to-remember saying: spring forward, fall back.) It’s a tradition that owes some allegiance to Benjamin Franklin (yes, that Benjamin Franklin!) but which didn’t become law in the United States until 1918. In fact, one theory has it that DST started as a joke by Franklin.

PS: It’s daylight saving time, not—as is commonly but mistakenly said—daylight savings time.

So, why does it start at 2 a.m.?

Instead of turning the clocks at midnight, as might be expected, DST starts at the seemingly random time of 2 a.m. because of the railroads. When DST was introduced during World War I, it was one of the few times when there were no trains traveling on the tracks. “Sunday morning at 2 a.m. was when they would interrupt the least amount of train travel around the country,” Michael Downing, author of Spring Forward: The Annual Madness of Daylight Saving Time, has explained.

According to online museum WebExhibits, the 2 a.m. change was also a convenient middle ground between midnight—when changing the clocks would require the date switching back to the previous day—and later in the morning when early shift workers and churchgoers might be affected.

Who observes DST?

In America, most states observe it, with the exception of Hawaii and the majority of Arizona, plus Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, and the Virgin Islands. (It’s still observed in Arizona by the Navajo Nation.) However, Daylight Saving isn’t just an American quirk; it’s celebrated around much of the world, although countries from Japan, South Korean, and India to Iceland, Egypt, and Argentina opt-out. Interestingly, in the European Union countries, DST starts the last Sunday of March at 1 a.m. and ends the last Sunday in October, also at 1 a.m.

Next, read on to find out 11 facts about DST you probably don’t know.

Popular Videos

Nadine Jolie Courtney
Nadine Jolie Courtney is a Virtuoso travel advisor and regular contributor to Reader's Digest, covering travel, culture, and health. A former magazine editor based in Santa Monica, she also covers lifestyle and parenting, with regular outlets including The Healthy, Oprah Mag, Town & Country, Business Insider, and many other publications. Courtney is the author of four books, including ALL-AMERICAN MUSLIM GIRL, a Kirkus Best Book of 2019. Follow her on Instagram @nadinejoliecourtney