New England States Could Band Together to Join Atlantic Time, Stop Changing Clocks

May 9, 2017
Originally published on May 9, 2017 1:33 pm

New England states are considering the idea of sticking with daylight saving time year 'round. Proposals to make the switch are being taken up by several legislatures, including Maine's.

The idea is to stop "falling back" and "springing ahead" at each change of seasons and shine a little more light on cold winter evenings. But there are political and other considerations when it comes to the passage of time.

The concept of adjusting the clock to suit social needs appears to be Benjamin Franklin’s, in a jesting bit of advice to the French to start their days earlier, work more during the sunny hours and thereby save on candle wax. In 1962 our federal government standardized the practice of “daylight saving time” and, now, 48 U.S. states deploy it in an effort to match work hours and sunlight.

But here on the East Coast, it has its critics.

“The minute you set that clock back and it’s darker earlier it’s just, blah,” says Dean Pike, who owns the Moose Island Marine services shop in Eastport, very close to the easternmost point in the continental U.S.

They see the sun first there, but they are also first to see it set, and from mid-November through the early January, that moment comes before 4 p.m.

“In the fall it just kills us. You know, it’s better for us to have it lighter later, the problem is, if Maine does it alone look at how it’s going to affect you calling your suppliers. It would be nice if it was a regionwide decision,” Pike says.

He could be in luck on that. Discontent with the current system can be found regionwide. Ask Keith Murphy, who moved to Bedford, New Hampshire, some 13 years ago.

“I remember moving here in January and it got dark at 4:15 p.m., and I was astonished — because it was not what I was used to,” he says.

Murphy happens to be a member of New Hampshire’s Legislature, and he introduced a bill back in the dark days of February that could end that state’s annual clock-hop and instead stay year ‘round with daylight saving time, also known in this region as Atlantic standard time.

Murphy’s bill has passed the New Hampshire House, with a proviso that Massachusetts and Maine switch too and that the federal government gives permission.

Similar measures have passed Maine’s House and Senate, with the same proviso that neighbor states act, as well. In Massachusetts, a commission appointed by Gov. Charlie Baker is set to make recommendations on the question within a month or two. Lawmakers in the rest have New England have at least submitted similar bills, although no one seems to be spending a lot of political capital on the issue.

But it is about a lot more than early sunsets. A growing body of research shows that when we lose that hour of sleep each spring, we suffer a kind of jet lag.

“Switching to daylight saving time, particularly during the spring, is problematic, because it disrupts the circadian cycle that we have. And when it gives that shock to our system we are not immediately able to change,” says David Wagner, a sleep and workplace researcher at the University of Oregon’s Lundquist Business College.

Wagner says that in the days just after the clocks are set forward, especially “Sleepy Monday,” many ills can result, with the rate of heart attacks and strokes rising and more accidents suffered by miners and drivers.

And decision-making patterns change, Wagner says — judges tend hand out harsher sentences, for instance. And at work?

“It turns out that people cyber-loaf more, which is using their computers for things that are not work-related, surfing the web, and we also found moral awareness decreases. People are not kind of tuned in to the moral implications of various situations,” he says. “We’ve got a current paper that we’re working on looking at policing and prejudice that occurs in policing, and that’s exacerbated in conditions of sleep deprivation.”

But even with the mounting evidence of the problems posed by switching clocks back and forth, there is a good deal of skepticism about changing the habit.

In Maine, the Chamber of Commerce worries that business transactions, especially those with the financial capital of New York City, will be slowed, while shipping and travel between border states could get pretty confusing. And in Northern New England, there can be a flinty reluctance to make decisions contingent on what heavyweight Massachusetts does.

And for some people who start their workday early in morning, like Benjamin King, a barista at Portland’s Coffee By Design, the morning sun is a blessing they’d like to hold onto right through winter.

“Because people want to start their day in the light versus the end of the day. We’re used to it getting dark so it really doesn’t matter what time it gets dark,” he says.

King probably doesn’t have to worry, at least for the moment: Maine Gov. Paul LePage, known for his well-used veto pen, says the idea of changing the current system is “an insane thought.” But with research, and lawmakers around New England, increasingly highlighting problems with the practice, it could be just a matter of time.

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