Stopping The Clock-Hop: New England States Tick Through Daylight Saving Time Proposals

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Similar measures calling for the permanent switch to daylight saving time, or Atlantic Standard Time, have been filed in the legislatures of several New England states, who would hope to make the change with their neighbors in the region. (Sanah Suvarna/Unsplash)
Similar measures calling for the permanent switch to daylight saving time, or Atlantic Standard Time, have been filed in the legislatures of several New England states, who would hope to make the change with their neighbors in the region. (Sanah Suvarna/Unsplash)

Over the past several years, New England states have considered whether or not to stick with daylight saving time year-round. The idea is to stop "falling back" and "springing ahead" at each change of seasons — and gain a little more light on winter evenings as a result.

The concept of adjusting the clock to suit social needs appears to be credited to Benjamin Franklin, who, in a jesting bit of advice, told the French to start their days earlier, work more during the sunny hours, and thereby save on candle wax.

In 1962, our federal government standardized the practice of "daylight saving time," and now, 48 U.S. states deploy it in an effort to match work hours and sunlight. But here on the east coast, it has its critics.

"The minute you set that clock back, and it's darker earlier it's just, bleh, you know?" says Dean Pike, who owns the Moose Island Marine services shop in Eastport, Maine — the nation's easternmost city. They see the sun first there, but they are also first to see it set, and from mid-November through early January, sundown comes before 4 p.m.

"In the fall, it just kills us. You know it's better for us to have it lighter later," Pike said. The problem is, if Maine does it alone, look at how that's going to affect, you know, you calling your suppliers. It would be nice if it was a region-wide decision."

He could be in luck on that. Discontent with the current system can be found region-wide.

About More Than Sunset Times

"I remember moving here in January and it got dark at 4:15 p.m., and I was astonished because that was not what I was used to," said Keith Murphy, who moved to Bedford, New Hampshire, some 13 years ago.

Murphy happens to be a member of New Hampshire's Legislature, and he introduced a bill back in the dark days of February that could end that state's annual clock-hop and instead stay year-round with daylight saving time (also known in this region as Atlantic Standard Time). His bill has passed the New Hampshire House with a proviso that Massachusetts and Maine switch up, too, and that the federal government gives permission.

And similar measures have passed Maine's House and Senate, also with a proviso that neighbor states act as well. In Massachusetts, a commission appointed by Gov. Charlie Baker is set to make recommendations on the question within a month or two.

Lawmakers in the rest of New England have at least submitted similar bills. Although, no one seems to be spending a lot of political capital on the issue.

But it is about a lot more than early sunsets. A growing body of research shows that when we lose that hour of sleep each spring, we suffer a kind of jet-lag.

"Switching to daylight saving time, in particular during the spring, is problematic because it disrupts the circadian cycle that we have. And when it gives that shock to our system, we are not immediately able to change," said David Wagner, a sleep and workplace researcher at the University of Oregon's Lundquist Business College. He says that in the days just after the clocks are set forward, especially "Sleepy Monday," many ills can result, with the rate of heart attacks and strokes rising, and more accidents suffered by miners and drivers.

Decision-making patterns even change, Wagner says, as judges tend to hand out harsher sentences, for instance. And, at work:

"It turns out that people cyber-loaf more, which is using their computers for things that are not work-related, surfing the web and we also found moral awareness decreases. People are not kind of tuned into the moral implications of various situations," Wagner explained. "We've got a current paper that we're working on looking at the policing and prejudice that occurs in policing that's exacerbated in conditions of sleep deprivation."

But even with the mounting evidence of the problems posed by changing the clocks back and forth, there is a good deal of skepticism about changing the habit. In Maine, the Chamber of Commerce worries that business transactions — especially those with the financial capital of New York City — will be slowed, while shipping and travel between border states could get pretty confusing.

In northern New England, there can also be a flinty reluctance to make decisions contingent on what heavyweight Massachusetts does.

For some people who start their work day early in morning, like Benjamin King, a barista at Portland's Coffee By Design, the morning sun is a blessing they'd like to hold onto right through winter.

"Because people want to start their day in the light versus the end of the day. We're used to it getting dark, so it really doesn't matter what time it gets dark," he said.

King probably doesn't have to worry, at least for the moment. Maine Gov. Paul LePage, known for his well-used veto pen, says the idea of changing the current system is "an insane thought."

But with research and lawmakers around New England increasingly highlighting problems with the practice, it could be just a matter of time.

This story comes via the New England News Collaborative, and was first published by Maine Public.

This segment aired on May 16, 2017.



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