A View from the Hill
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 25, 1999
CONTACT: Tommy Voltero (617) 722-2240
DON'T GET SPOOKED ON DAYLIGHT SAVINGS
Fall is such a great season. The weather is comfortable and pleasant,
the trees are decorated with magnificent rainbows of leaves, and farm
stands are stocked with the fresh fruits of the autumn harvest. This is
the time for apple picking, high school football games, and leaf raking; a
time to enjoy the final days of camping out and backyard fun; and a time of
wandering through rows and rows of pumpkins to find that perfect
jack-o-lantern for Halloween.
Yet, in spite of all these things that make fall wonderful, there are
a few issues that have been on my mind lately. This year is my daughter's
first Halloween and my wife and I have been debating over what to dress her
up as (I made passing mention of making her a boxer with little red gloves
and trunks, but the look on my wife's face suggested that I go back to the
drawing board). As I thought about dressing my little pumpkin up for her
first night of trick-or-treating, I began to think of all the kids who
would be out on the dark streets on Halloween. As they roamed the town
dressed as vampires, ghosts, and ex-presidents, would they be worried about
playing it safe, about looking both ways when they crossed the street?
Knowing that darkness, children, and cars are a dangerous combination,
I wondered how to make the streets safer at night for our children.
Keeping the kids locked up in the house at all times probably wouldn't work,
nor would banning the operation of motor vehicles in the state of
Massachusetts. But what about daylight? Perhaps we could extend daylight
a few more hours so cars could see the little darlings out on the street.
It was then that I remembered that we are turning the clocks back on
October 31st this year. What if we waited one more day to turn the clocks
back? The kids would have an extra hour of light to go trick-or-treating.
Strangely enough, someone else in the State House had the same idea.
There is a Senate bill (S.1424) that proposes to extend daylight savings
time (DST) indefinitely. If this bill were to become law, Massachusetts
would be one full hour ahead of Eastern Standard Time for 6 months of the
year. Leave it up to the Senate to upset the time balance of the entire
Although the bill probably will not make it very far, its existence
reminds us that Daylight Savings is an important issue. A glance at the
history books traces its origins all the way back to 1784, when Benjamin
Franklin made a passing reference to "saving daylight" in his essay "Turkey
vs. Eagle." Unfortunately for Franklin, the turkey never became the
national symbol, but daylight savings time eventually came into use during
World War I. The U.S. tweaked the clocks to give citizens an extra hour of
afternoon daylight, resulting in the conservation of fuel for the war
effort. This happened again in WW II when the U.S. and Britain put their
respective nations on "war time" throughout the conflict. Congress
solidified the practice in later years with the Uniform Time Act of 1966,
establishing an unvarying system of DST, and a subsequent act in 1986 that
standardized its exact beginning and end.
The current federal legislation makes it difficult to tinker with DST
on a state-by-state basis. However, the logic behind putting our state on
permanent daylight savings makes perfect sense. Studies show that
accidents are more likely to occur in the dark than in broad daylight.
The American Journal of Public Health, for example, published an analysis
of pedestrian fatalities and daylight savings time. It investigated the
number of fatalities occurring 13 weeks before and 9 weeks after the end of
DST in October. During this four year study, researchers found that
fatalities quadrupled in the weeks after DST ended. They speculated that
900 lives could have been saved had daylight savings been in effect
throughout the study. Another investigation by the University of
Washington demonstrated a positive correlation between darkness and auto
accidents, concluding that the extension of daylight savings would be a
cheap and effective way of saving lives.
There are, of course, a few critics. A Canadian professor discovered
that traffic accidents increased by 8% on the Monday immediately following
the day we turn the clocks ahead. Driver fatigue resulting from the loss
of an hour's sleep caused drivers to be less responsive to fluctuating
traffic conditions. This translated into an increased number of accidents.
The US Farm Bureau has been a solid opponent of DST, complaining that
daylight savings disrupts established routines (since farmers base their
workday on the sun and not the clock). It claims that farmers are forced
to sell their crops at inconvenient times, making an already difficult
workday even more so. Others point out that the hour of light gained in the
evening is offset by the one lost in the morning. They argue that it could
be dangerous to have school buses and morning commuters driving in the dark
with school children all over the place.
The daylight savings issue reaches far beyond the boundaries of state
or even federal politics, for a permanent time change would have a ripple
effect across the entire earth. Every country even remotely linked to the
United States would have to adjust its transportation schedules, business
practices, and communications networks. Very few legislators want to be
remembered as the person who upset the time balance of the world!
Because the daylight savings debate is complex and two-sided, an attempt to
change the policy seems like a zero-sum game. It's as if a tall person
were trying to cover herself with a short blanket. If she pulls the
blanket over her shoulders, her feet will be exposed and if she tries to
cover her feet, her shoulders will feel the chill of the autumn air. A
gain in one place is a loss in another.
Obviously, the issue needs to be studied further. It would be a waste
of time to pass radical legislation that turns out to be ineffective and
unnecessary. The best thing to do is continue the investigation of daylight
savings and advocate measures that are of the greatest benefit to the
people. While we are still working out these issues, I make a special plea
to everyone on the road to watch for all kids this Halloween as we keep
ours out of harm's way.