The U.S. Senate just voted to make daylight saving time permanent. What will that mean for us?
On Tuesday, March 15, the U.S. Senate quietly and unanimously voted to pass a bill that would make daylight saving time (DST) permanent. The “Sunshine Protection Act” would eliminate the need to change clocks twice a year, a practice most Americans despise. Daylight saving time occurs in the spring when many Americans change their clocks forward by one hour, hence the term “spring ahead.” Standard time occurs in the fall when we “fall back” by reversing the time by one hour. Permanent daylight saving time would shift both sunrise and sunset later, which would allow for more daylight in the afternoon and evening. But, while the majority of people want to ‘ditch the switch’, is permanent daylight saving time really the right option? Critics and health experts say no.
Save Standard Time, a nonprofit, nonpartisan, volunteer-run movement, is calling for permanent standard time (PST) to be signed into law because it “provides the most benefit to health, safety, schoolchildren, economy, environment, and liberty,” Their position is clear. “DST’s combination of late daylight and pre-sunrise waking robs us of 19 minutes of sleep every night on average. Researchers warn DST’s chronic lack of sleep significantly increases risks of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure,” and a host of other conditions.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) also came out in opposition to the bill. While they agree with Congress’ goal to pass a law establishing a fixed national time, they argue that permanent standard time is the better option. The AASM maintains that daylight saving time disrupts the body’s natural rhythm while standard time is more in sync with our circadian sleep-wake cycle.
Some studies show traffic fatalities increase up to six percent in the first few days following daylight saving time in the spring. One study found an 18 percent increase in adverse medical events related to human error within one week of switching to daylight saving time.
Dr. Charles Czeisler, chief of the Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston said, “in their zeal to prevent the annual switch, the Senate has unfortunately chosen the wrong time to stabilize onto. What the Senate passed [March 15, 2022] would require all Americans to start their work and school an hour earlier than they usually do, and that’s particularly difficult to do in the winter, when the sun is rising later.”
Senators Marco Rubio (R-Fl) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) co-sponsored the Sunshine Protection Act. Sen. Whitehouse said he realizes people would lose an hour of daylight in the morning with permanent DST. But, he argued, children would enjoy more sunlight when they come home from school and people will be able to run errands more easily in the evening. “There are a lot fewer people up and about between 6:30 and 7:30 in the morning than there are between 4:15 and 5:15 in the afternoon,” he said.
Some government officials remain skeptical of the bill. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said, “How are people going to feel at 7 o’clock in the morning in December, when they put their kids out on the street to catch the school bus, and it’s dead, flat dark?” Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) also expressed concerns about the bill. “It’s great for Florida. They’re in the right longitude and the right latitude. There’s kids in Minnesota and Nebraska and Montana that are going to catch the school bus in the pitch dark, and I worry about that,” Wicker said.
The effect on schools is an important consideration for shifting to permanent daylight saving time. Northern states would see longer, darker mornings if the Sunshine Protection Act was to be signed into law. Here in New York, sunrise would occur close to 8:00 a.m. by Thanksgiving, after 8:00 a.m. by Christmas, and not until 8:20 a.m. in January. For many schools that begin prior to 8:30 a.m., this would mean students waiting at pitch black bus stops, walking or driving to school in the dark, and getting an hour less daylight every morning–something sleep experts already worry about with teenagers who don’t get the daily recommended amount of rest. On the other hand, more light in the afternoon could result in longer recreational activities, easier participation in sports, and winter sunsets around 5:30 p.m.
The conversation about switching to permanent daylight saving time comes as the North Salem Central School District is already exploring a shift in start times. The NS Start Time Committee, made up of administrative staff, teachers, and parents, has been meeting since the beginning of the school year to determine the best course of action and will review several options to present to the Board of Ed. The community will have to weigh in before any changes are made. The current school start times in the NSCSD are 7:28 a.m. and 8:25 a.m. If permanent daylight saving time were to become law today, most North Salem students would go to school before the sun comes up from November through March.
Supporters of permanent daylight saving time tout the benefits of longer evenings and the ability for children to have more outdoor recreational activities when the school day ends. Some studies have determined that permanent daylight saving time leads to improved road safety and fewer pedestrian deaths at dawn and dusk. Many retailers also support this idea because it allows shoppers to frequent stores for longer periods of time. One study showed that robbery rates decrease with daylight saving time, falling as much as 27% during the evening hour which gains sunlight.
This is not the first time the U.S. has experimented with a time shift. Permanent daylight saving time was used during World War II. It was attempted again in 1973 as a strategy to reduce energy use, but was quickly reversed a year later when the majority of Americans reported that they could not tolerate going to work and sending their kids to school in the dark.
Despite the significant health and safety benefits of shifting to permanent standard time, almost 30 states have proposed opposite legislation to shift to permanent daylight saving time since 2015. In the last four years, 18 states have passed laws to make that happen. The Sunshine Protection Act will be presented to the House in the coming weeks, and then on to President Biden for approval. If passed, the changes would occur in November 2023.
To learn more about the Sunshine Protection Act, check out these sites: