Possible implications for Northern Ireland of the Daylight Saving Bill

Written evidence from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA)

1. Background:

1.1. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) would like to start by thanking the members of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee for giving it an opportunity to submit evidence in relation to the possible implications for Northern Ireland of the Daylight Saving Bill.

1.2. RoSPA is one of the world's leading safety organisations, which has now been in existence for 94 years.

1.3. The Society’s objectives are to bring about change and help others, including its much-valued members, in order to prevent accidents on the road, at work, in the home and at leisure.

1.4. Its varied activities include campaigning, collecting data, carrying out research, developing policies, informing and educating, auditing and providing expert consultancy.

1.5. Despite its official status, RoSPA is a completely independent professional body and registered charity.

1.6. For decades, our organisation has been at the forefront of a campaign to give the United Kingdom an extra hour of evening daylight all year round.

1.7. The most recent research shows that a switch to Single/Double Summer Time (GMT+1 in winter / GMT+2 in summer) would save 80 lives and prevent more than 200 serious injuries on Britain’s roads each year. [1]

1.8. In addition to the avoidance of grief and suffering, another positive consequence of fewer road accidents would be considerable annual savings to taxpayers.

1.9. The proposal has generated powerful momentum in recent months, winning the backing of tens of thousands of people and organisations through 10:10’s Lighter Later coalition - of which RoSPA is a member.

1.10. The campaign is closer to succeeding now than at any time since 1970, thanks to Rebecca Harris MP’s Private Members’ Bill (the Daylight Saving Bill 2010-11) which passed its second reading in Parliament in December with a majority of 82.

1.11. If successful, the Bill will lead to the Government carrying out a cross-departmental analysis of the benefits of SDST - which in turn could trigger a three-year trial.

1.12. As far as we are aware, the last account of Northern Ireland’s relationship to clock change was summed up in just a few paragraphs of the Home Office’s official review of the 1968-71 British Standard Time trial - when clocks across the UK were kept on GMT+1 all year round for three years. [2]

1.13. Research shows that the experiment helped to prevent about 2,700 deaths and serious injuries for each year of the trial period. [3]

1.14. All Rebecca Harris’s Bill is calling for is a review of the evidence - so people can see for themselves how positive an impact such a small adjustment would have on their lives today.

1.15. RoSPA estimates that about 5,000 deaths and 30,000 serious injuries have been caused needlessly in the UK since the experiment was concluded in 1971.

1.16. Now that the Government has decided not to reduce the drink-drive limit at this time, this proposal stands to save more lives than any other single road safety measure.

1.17. The Department for Transport estimated in 2009 that it would only cost £5million to implement SDST and would save more than £138million every year thereafter. [4]

1.18. To our knowledge, none of the many research papers or consultation documents published since 1971 considers the likely impact of SDST on Northern Ireland specifically.

1.19. This, in itself, provides a compelling case for a fresh investigation of the potential benefits for Northern Ireland.

1.20. This is an argument that was also made by Naomi Long MP (Alliance, Belfast East) during the second reading of Rebecca Harris’s Bill on December 3, 2010, in the House of Commons. [5] Mrs Long expressed support for the Bill on the basis that it would bring about a long overdue evaluation of the likely impact on Northern Ireland.

2. The Home Office’s Review of British Standard Time (1970):

2.1. This document, produced shortly before the 1968-71 experiment concluded, stated that although Northern Ireland had the power to pass separate legislation relating to time, and was not obliged to follow the decision of the United Kingdom Government, "their social and economic ties with Great Britain are so close it would clearly be impracticable for them to keep a different time system and the British Standard Time Act 1968 was therefore made applicable to them at their request".

2.2. The review also stated that enquiries made by the Government in Northern Ireland showed there was "a large measure of indifference" on this subject but that the arguments which had been put forward weighed fairly evenly for and against the retention of British Standard Time.

2.3. On the whole, the views held in Northern Ireland were similar to those in England, Wales and Scotland. The agricultural industry, for instance, was mainly opposed to the retention of British Standard Time while those concerned with education were mainly in favour of it. There was a division of opinion in industry and commerce, where the advantages of lighter afternoons and increased communications with the continent were weighed against "an alleged increase in accidents".

2.4. It summed up by saying:

There is a diversity of opinion in Northern Ireland and whatever decision is reached by the UK Government will be acceptable to a fairly large proportion of the inhabitants. There is, however, no indication that any of the effects of British Standard Time in Northern Ireland are sufficiently different from those in England, Wales and Scotland to affect the results of the inquiry as a whole.

3. Conclusion:

3.1. Traditional arguments deployed against SDST have much less force now; and those trades which traditionally started work early, like farmers and postal workers, have changed their working practices considerably.

3.2. Dr Mayer Hillman, of the Policy Studies Institute, reckons that with a rising proportion of the working population - now three-quarters of the total - in white collar occupations, and with typical office hours starting at 9am, the concomitant darker winter mornings would affect fewer people than in the past. [6]

3.3. This is borne out by the National Farmers Union Scotland’s (NFUS) recent decision to support Rebecca Harris’s Bill because it would provide an in-depth analysis of the likely impact of clock change. [7]

3.4. Explaining the NFUS’s decision to change tack, Scott Walker, the union’s policy director, said: "If people can put a good argument forward to us as to why there should be change, we're not going to be the ones who stand in the way of that change, if it's for everyone else’s benefit[.] We still don't see any benefit to agriculture from such a proposed change, [b]ut we do recognise that there's been a lot of comment saying that there is a lot of wider society benefits to be gained." [8]

3.5. The only way to reach a conclusion about the effects of a move to SDST in the UK is to conduct an experiment similar to the one held during 1968-71. A trial implementation of SDST over at least two years, with modern evaluation methods and all data correctly and comprehensively recorded, would result in data that is unequivocal in terms of casualty savings and could cover much wider issues also. Such an experiment would give the people of Northern Ireland an opportunity to experience the change themselves and may be useful in helping to crystallise opinions.

3.6. Since the 1968-71 experiment, the road environment and people’s travel habits have changed enormously. Society is more reliant on the car, fewer children walk or cycle to school, opportunities for leisure activities are significantly greater, people take holidays more frequently and overseas travel is much more common. The advancements in communication technology have opened up the opportunities for worldwide trade even further. Even weather conditions are changing as the effects of global warming are felt. None of the research conducted to date is able to address these factors successfully, which is why we continue to call for a thorough evaluation of the benefits to take place as soon as possible.

28 March 2011

[1] A Safer Way: Consultation on Making Britain’s Roads the Safest in the World , Department for Transport, April 2009

[2] Home Office, “Review of British Standard Time”, Cmnd 4512: HMSO, 1970

[3] A New Assessment of the Likely Effects on Road Accidents of Adopting SDST , TRL 368, Broughton and Stone , 1998

[4] A Safer Way: Consultation on Making Britain’s Roads the Safest in the World , Department for Transport, April 2009

[5] See www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201011/cmhansrd/cm101203/debtext/101203-0001.htm

[6] Making the Most of Daylight Hours: The Implications for Scotland , Policy Studies Institute, University of Westminster, Hillman, M. 2010

[7] Clock change one step closer , The Scottish Farmer, 24 November 2010

[8] We're not against moving clocks forward an hour, say Scottish farmers , The Guardian, 29 October 2010 (cited in www.parliament.uk/briefingpapers/commons/lib/research/rp2010/RP10-078.pdf )