Momentum Growing To Make DST Switch Permanent

Late in the Day at the Beach [Getty Images]

Every year when Americans "spring forward" to Daylight Savings Time (DST), we hear of the increase in car accidents the following Monday, or the increase in heart attacks. Mostly, we're coming to work (and church) a little more bleary-eyed than normal. But the payoff is a good one: there's actually more time to enjoy some daylight after work. And by the end of the week, most of the grumbling stops and we move on.

Not this year.

In Florida, the "Sunshine Protection Act" would put the state on Daylight Saving Time all year long. It's awaiting the signature of Governor Rick Scott. Meanwhile, a local state senator (and candidate for lieutenant governor) in Alabama has put up this fight before, only to see it fizzle out. At the time, Rusty Glover explained to me that it's not so easy to make Daylight Saving Time permanent. The federal government and Congress have to get involved and approve any changes. 

But that was a couple of years ago. Today, with Florida attempting to make the change to permanent DST, we can envision a future where Mobile and Pensacola are in the same time zone during the summer months, but it would be an hour later in Florida during the winter months. That would be ... weird. So once again, Rusty Glover is again sponsoring a resolution to make Daylight Saving Time a permanent fixture. His bill would also urge the federal government to make a permanent move to DST across the country. 

Meanwhile, back in DC, Florida Senator Marco Rubio is pushing two bills in the US Senate: 

  • Sunshine Protection Act -- Would make DST permanent across the country
  • Sunshine State Act -- Would allow Florida to make DST permanent, even if the rest of the country follows standard time.


Remarkably, there is a simple solution for any state whose citizens are tired of moving their clocks back and forth each year. While the Uniform Time Act of 1966 does not allow states to stay on daylight time permanently, it does allow states to simply opt out of daylight time and stay on standard time permanently. Two states already do this: Arizona and Hawaii. And until a little more than a decade ago, most of Indiana also opted out. (They only adopted DST because part of the state used it and another part didn't; it was all very confusing).

Americans really like the sun to be out when they're awake (certainly I do), so very few states have shown much interest in a permanent move to standard time. Which puts us back to square one. States need federal permission to make time changes; and to get that permission, they have to satisfy the "convenience of commerce" standard.  The federal Department of Transportation will look at things like where a community gets its radio and TV from, and how much economic interaction happens between two communities. 

By this standard, it would be easy to get Mobile and Baldwin counties moved to permanent Daylight Saving Time if Florida was also given permission. We watch the same TV and listen to the same radio. We work together (several Floridians work in our Alabama office, for example). Because we're so closely linked economically, it seems likely that Pensacola and Mobile will never be on different times.

There are plenty of arguments against the move to permanent DST:

  • In Florida, the PTA has come out against being on DST permanently. They're concerned about kids going to school in the dark. (Couldn't school times be adjusted?)
  • Folks would rather not drive to work in the dark in the winter, as well. Although I'd note that we drive home from work in the dark in winter. And traffic is a lot worse in the afternoon. Thus, it's probably safer to have an afternoon commute during daylight hours. Either way, you'll be driving in the dark.
  • There is already plenty of confusion when some places switch and others don't. Airlines already don't like that Europe starts and ends their "summer time" on different days than the USA; it's a hassle for the schedule makers. Few of us ever seem to be able to figure out what time it is in Arizona or Hawaii. Imagine if even more states did their own thing. 

Finally, there's one thing we tend to forget about in the South: switching to Daylight Saving Time actually makes a lot more sense up North. There are far bigger swings in the length of days the closer we get to the poles. The days are longer in summer, with very early sunrises, and the nights are longer in winter. In Seattle, for example, a permanent switch to DST would mean the sun doesn't rise until nearly 9 AM on the shortest day of the year. Yikes! In summer, the sun is up just a little after 5 AM on the longest day of the year, even with Daylight Saving Time. Without DST, the sun would rise in Seattle a little after 4 AM. So you can understand why northerners might be okay with the time change. 

In Mobile, winter sunrise in a world with permanent DST would be closer to 7:45 -- much more reasonable, and not really a big deal. If kids up North can get to school when the sun rises even later, should be no problem for our kids.

{Image from Google}

So there's a reason why all this talk of doing away with time changes is coming from Southern states. A permanent change to DST would have much less of an impact on our morning sunlight, but it would have a big impact up North. And that's why you're not likely to ever see a permanent change to one time or another -- at least not nationally. 

The best hope is for Congress or federal regulators to give states some leeway to make their own decisions. If a state can decide to opt out of Daylight Saving Time, there's seems to be no reason why states shouldn't be allowed to simply opt out of Standard Time. More Southern states would likely adopt permanent DST, while most Northern states likely would not. There's really no ideal solution, but allowing the states to stick with DST if they choose is as close to an answer as we'll ever get. 

And it could be worse: ALL of China is on a single time zone, and yet its geography would dictate five separate time zones. The sun actually rises at 3:05 AM (!) in the most easterly location of China on July 1st; in Western Tibet, it rises at 9:41 AM on January 1st. At least they got rid of twice yearly time changes....




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