Every now and then, a potentially major news story that could affect everyone in a region just sort of flies under the radar. But time marches on. Or if this particular policy change becomes a reality, time could be sprung forward by an hour.
Such is the case with a bill in the Massachusetts legislature proposing to study the idea of keeping the Bay State on daylight saving time year round. And make no mistake about it: if Massachusetts decides to make the change, some — if not all — of the New England States would follow suit.
The reasons for the change are obvious. Of all the U.S. regions in the eastern standard time zone, New England is easily the farthest east and north. As a result, we have the earliest sunsets in the nation during the winter months. In Boston, the shortest day occurs just before Christmas, with sunset occurring at 4:11 p.m. New York City’s darkest day ends at 4:28 p.m. Connecticut’s is somewhere in between, depending on which half of the state you live in. On the ridiculous extreme is eastern Maine, where sunset on the shortest day occurs at 3:45 p.m.
In effect, we would be joining the Atlantic Standard Time zone, which includes Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, most of Labrador, far eastern Quebec, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and several Caribbean islands.
The idea is the brainchild of Tom Emswiler, a public health advocate in Quincy, Mass., who was appalled at eastern New England’s early sunsets after moving to the Boston area from Virginia five years ago.
“I just think it’s miserable when the sun sets at 4 o’clock,” he said in an interview with the Boston Globe. “On a cloudy day, it starts getting dark at 3:50-something.”
He’s right. Last Christmas Eve my family was basking in the glory of unseasonably warm weather. We decided to grill some steaks to celebrate. But it was pitch dark by 5 p.m. when I threw the meat onto the Weber. Of course, it’s a minor inconvenience in the scope of things. Still, don’t you think our winters are long enough without being able to take full advantage of the outdoors even when conditions otherwise allow for it?
The benefits of remaining on daylight saving time are pretty clear. Those with seasonal affective disorder would likely see some relief. There would be more time to get things done outside after work. Most experts say it would save electricity. And let’s face it: winter is depressing enough without having to fumble for your keys in a poorly lit office parking lot to drive home in the dark.
Emswiler also pointed to a recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) indicating that while heart attacks are reduced for one day in the fall following the return to standard time, heart attacks increased for three days in the spring following the start of daylight saving time when people lose an hour of sleep. And there is another study cited in the NEJM indicating that the same spring time shift increases the risk of traffic and workplace accidents.
There are also some obvious drawbacks. Winter sunrises would occur as late as 8:30 a.m., leaving school children waiting in the dark for buses. But Emswiler says that could give schools the impetus they need to start the school day later, which other studies have found is friendlier to the internal clocks of teenagers.
If Connecticut were to join the AST, commons sense tells us Fairfield County — or portions of it — would have to be carved out as an exception. The Gold Coast has become a bedroom community for New York City commuters and it’s also home to hedge funds and other financial services corporations with close ties to the city.
But states that are divided by time-zone boundaries are nothing new. Northwestern Indiana, adjacent to Chicago, is in the Central Standard Time zone, while most of the rest of the state lies in the same time zone as ours. The eastern third of Tennessee, which is not far from the big eastern cities of Atlanta and Charlotte, is on EST.
If indeed a state decided it wanted to switch its time zone, how difficult would it be? States can opt out of daylight saving time on their own, as Arizona and Hawaii have, but a switch in time zones, which is what staying on DST year-round would be, would require approval from the U.S. Department of Transportation, which would have to consider its effect on commerce.
The change seems like a longshot, not only passage of the legislation in the Massachusetts Statehouse, but especially here in the Land of Steady Habits, where it took us 75 years to get to the point where we could allow stores to sell alcohol on Sundays.
But a guy can dream, can’t he?
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