Room 473-B
State House
Boston, MA 02133
Telephone: (617) 722-2230
District Office
585A Main St.
Winchester, MA 01890
Telephone: (617) 721-7285 or (617) 438-7185

A View from the Hill

CONTACT: Tommy Voltero (617) 722-2240


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 eastern seaboard!

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.

Return to Winchester Government Page