Thursday, March 17, 2022

Permanent DST? Be careful what you wish for -- March 17, 2022 column


Daylight saving time is having its, well, day in the sun. 

After “springing forward” Sunday, senators surprised everyone Tuesday by unanimously passing, on a voice vote, a bill to make daylight saving time permanent. 

That Republicans and Democrats actually agree on something reflects the rise of a grassroots issue. People hate having to reset their clocks twice a year, and nearly every state has addressed whether to make daylight saving time permanent. 

Eighteen states have approved the change since 2018, but they can’t take effect until federal law changes. 

The Senate bill would make daylight saving permanent unless a state chooses to remain on standard time year round. Only Hawaii and Arizona, except for the Navajo Nation, now keep standard time year round. 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi favors permanent daylight saving time and President Joe Biden, as a senator, supported it. At a subcommittee hearing March 9, Rep. Frank Pallone, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce committee, called for a Department of Transportation study on the effects of a permanent change to daylight saving time. 

The study may slow momentum, but a switch to permanent daylight saving time seems on track. If the House agrees, we could stop changing our clocks in November 2023. 

But wait. We’ve been here before, and it wasn’t pretty. 

After the oil embargo of 1973, Americans were gung-ho for permanent daylight saving time as a way to save fuel. With 79% of Americans in favor, Congress passed a bill that President Richard Nixon signed, starting a trial of permanent daylight saving time in January 1974. 

 Then people started living with dark mornings. The sun did not rise in January in Virginia, for example, until about 8:24 a.m. 

 Children around the country were forced to wait in the dark for the school bus, and several died on their way to school. The fuel savings weren’t as much as expected. Public support plummeted below 50%, and Congress ended the experiment after six months. 

Today, our devices change the time for us, but what isn’t so easy is resetting our biological rhythm. Medical studies link the transition to daylight saving time to increased strokes, heart attacks and teen sleep deprivation. 

 But here’s the thing: The choice need not be either permanent daylight time or the status quo of changing clocks twice a year. There is a third option: keep standard time year round. 

Seven in 10 people want to stop changing clocks, but 40% favor year-round standard time while 31% favor year-round daylight saving time, according to a 2019 AP-NORC survey. 

Permanent standard – not saving -- time “aligns best with human circadian biology and provides distinct benefits for public health and safety,” says the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, whose members include accredited sleep centers, physicians, scientists and other health professionals. 

The agriculture industry has opposed daylight saving time since it was first instituted during World War I. Farmers prefer to use the sun for their chores.

The nonpartisan Save Standard Time, whose members include medical, education and religious groups, also advocates for standard time year round. 

But the retail, golf and tourism industries are pushing for permanent daylight saving time. 

A bill to exempt Virginia from daylight saving time and keep standard time year around failed this year in the Virginia General Assembly. 

If the U.S. Senate bill were to become law, a crazy quilt of standard and daylight saving times, state by state, could result. 

Now is the time for people to speak up. 

“As we wait to see if/when this legislation is considered in the House, I want to know what you think,” U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger, a Virginia Democrat, said Wednesday in an email. 

 Her survey asks whether to make daylight saving time permanent, keep the status quo (change time twice a year) or “Unsure/Other.” That third choice indicates the House is not seriously considering keeping standard time year round. 

What time do you want it to be? I asked a year ago in this space. 

Between permanent daylight saving time and the status quo, I still would pick the status quo. I can put up with changing clocks to see daylight on winter mornings. 

Better would be to make standard time permanent since it suits our natural world. 

 © 2022 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved. 30

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