The early switch to Daylight Saving Time is intended to save energy, but may not be such a bright idea.
Daylight Saving Time starts three weeks early this year (March 11), creating the possibility of computer glitches for travelers and businesses. Potential problems extend beyond the United States and anyone doing business with a U.S. company could be affected.
"If Y2K was a heart attack, this will be more like heartburn," says Charlie Greenwald, a spokesman for the Information Technology Association of America, a trade organization in Arlington, Va. "The early change to Daylight Saving Time is limited to software and systems that process date and time as part of their functionality whereas concern with Y2K was code at all levels of the system. This isn't a hard or expensive problem to solve - it's mostly a matter of awareness."
This year’s early change to Daylight Saving Time is mandated by the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and will be made at 2 a.m. on the second Sunday in March - the 11th - rather than April 1, the first Sunday in April. Daylight Saving will end on the first Sunday in November instead of the last Sunday of October. President Bush signed the bill into law two years ago and it takes affect this year.
Experts say computers won't crash, but without the required software patch there could be a range of annoying problems, including:
- Calendaring applications may be thrown off, showing incorrect times for recurring meetings.
- Incorrect arrival and departure times may be common in the travel industry.
- Bank transaction dates may be incorrect and result in late fees.
- Timed stock trades might not be completed on schedule.
- Time locks may not function properly. Deadlines for time-sensitive enrollments may be missed.
- Billing errors may incorrectly charge cell phone users peak rates during non-peak hours.
"It's going to be widespread," Cameron Hait, vice president for research at Garter told CNBC's Squawk Box. "We've heard it described as a 'mini Y2K' or 'Y2K-7.' That's probably a bit of an overreach, but there's going to be a rather large annoyance factor associated with this."
Microsoft says the needed changes are built into its new Windows Vista. Windows XP users started receiving updates February 13 and all will receive the needed patch before the time change. But older versions of Windows aren't supported and need to be updated manually.
"Microsoft has been actively engaged with its customers, working with partners and reaching out to consumers to raise awareness of the time change and to provide solutions that will help with the transition," says Jim Desler, a spokesman for Microsoft.
Corporate BlackBerry users should check with the IT department and let the tekkies handle the needed update. If you purchased your BlackBerry for your personal use it's not part of a corporate environment, manually change the time in Options-Date/Time. Move the time forward one hour on March 11 and then back an hour on April 1 when it will automatically update. In the fall, the process is similar: Move the time forward one hour on October 28 to compensate for the automatic update and back an hour on November 4. If you don't have a patch or take a hands-on approach, failure to correct the time will affect the calendar function.
Major companies have long been aware of the potential problem and have taken steps to assure a smooth changeover to DST. Travelers should be aware that the early time change could cause confusion on plane, train and bus schedules.
Eric Rabe, senior vice president for media relations for Verizon in Basking Ridge, N.J. says the company regularly upgrades software for its wireless and wireline services.
"This isn't something we discovered yesterday so it's just another software upgrade -- something we do routinely," he says. "We expect to be in great shape and don't foresee any issues for our customers."
Tracy Connell, a spokeswoman for Amtrak in Washington, D.C., says the national rail network will follow its standard procedure for the time change and expects no problems.
"The trains running overnight on March 11 will be an hour late getting to their destinations," she says. "In the fall, trains will stop for an hour at the nearest station to get back on schedule. The timetable doesn't change."
The early switch to Daylight Saving Time won't be a problem for most individuals on a personal level because it simply means manually resetting clocks at home or the office. But keep an eye out for glitches when stepping outside things you can personally control. If it's an issue, remember to check time stamps on financial transactions. Some fax machines, for example, may have imbedded code to change to Daylight Saving on first Sunday in April and to return to Standard Time on the last Sunday in October. If there's a problem, dig out the owner's manual
and make the update manually.
The early time shift means there will be a four-hour time difference between New York and London rather than the normal five-hour gap, causing problems for the unwary. Do the math for other destinations.
In the U.S., some incorrectly believe they won't be affected because their system is set on Central Time. This is an invitation to trouble because there must be a change to the
then-appropriate local time.
But cheer up, the scramble to fix the problem now could easily be undone in the future because Congress retained the authority to return to the previous schedule for Daylight Saving Time.
Note: Microsoft is among the many technology companies that have set up Websites to answer questions about the early change to Daylight Saving from companies and individuals, http://www.microsoft.com/dst2007