We are headed into my least favorite time of the year. It’s that period when you realize the long, dark winter isn’t far away, and for the foreseeable future, you will be consigned to driving home from the office in the dark – that is, if you still work in an office.
I’ve long wondered whether something could be done about it. My fanciful solutions always involved finding a way to alter the Earth’s axial orientation. But we can thank politicians for proposing more practical ways to give us additional sunlight – or at least for making us feel like the day was longer than it actually was.
To wit, along comes state Rep. Kurt Vail, R-Stafford, who is reintroducing a bill that he originally proposed in 2017 and pushed again the following year. His proposals essentially went nowhere. Vail’s legislation would make daylight saving time permanent in Connecticut.
In effect, Connecticut would simply join the Atlantic Time Zone, which includes much of eastern Canada, including New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and several Caribbean islands. The time switch has become something of a crusade for Vail, who told reporters last week he intends to introduce the bill yet again.
The advantages of the switch 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.
Those with seasonal affective disorder, which afflicts my own sister, 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.
Tom Emswiler, a public health advocate who urged the Massachusetts legislature to consider the change five years ago, pointed to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine indicating that while heart attacks are reduced for one day in the fall following the return to Eastern 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.
The Fox 61 report below also cited a AAA study that found last year there were almost 70% more crashes between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. in the two weeks following the fall clock change than during the two weeks preceding it. An AAA spokesperson also said it’s a “very dangerous time of the year for pedestrians” because crashes involving foot travelers increase substantially after sunset.
There are also some obvious drawbacks. Opponents complain that winter sunrises would occur as late as 8:30 a.m., leaving school children waiting in the dark for buses. But I’m convinced that the change might give schools the impetus they need to start the school day later, which studies have consistently found is friendlier to the internal clocks of teenagers and helps them improve attendance and grades.
The logistics are somewhat daunting. Connecticut could not be an outlier, so it would require a regional approach with other nearby states signing on. Similar bills have been introduced in other states, but Congress would also have to act to allow states to observe DST year-round because current law only allows states to forgo Daylight Saving Time. In addition, staying on DST year-round would require approval from the U.S. Department of Transportation, which would have to consider its effect on commerce.
In the last four years, bills or resolutions have been introduced in 19 states, including Massachusetts, New York and Delaware. A study on the switch has been commissioned in Maine, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, which keeps a handy tally of these things so we don’t have to.
Vail told Hearst Connecticut newspapers he got the idea from talking to constituents over the years. Many of them were tired of making the switch: “They just said, ‘What’s the point anymore?’ I went and talked to local farmers and they were like, ‘Yeah, we have no purpose for it.’ They prefer not going back and forth.”
I must confess that I do not know whether the affected states could agree on whether to make the change, or even if they did, whether Congress could get its act together and pass enabling legislation. I fear it would become politicized. Donald Trump might even weigh in on the subject, spawning conspiracy theories that would go viral on social media and cause tens of millions of people to oppose the initiative. Hey, I’m only half kidding. You would think something like this couldn’t possibly become politicized, but such is our world.
Contributing op-ed columnist Terry Cowgill lives in Lakeville, blogs at PolitiConn and is managing editor of The Berkshire Edge in Great Barrington, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @terrycowgill or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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