Carson’s Commentary: 30-minute permanent DST fixes a century-old problem

A person’s alarm clock goes off, waking them up. When Daylight Saving Time begins, people’s alarm clocks go off an hour earlier than usual. Photo by Acharaporn Kamornboonyarush/Pexels

Eleven days ago, most Americans set their clocks ahead one hour to mark the biannual tradition of Daylight Saving Time (DST). Established during World War I to conserve natural resources by shifting more daylight toward the evening hours, DST is still around more than a century later, and it confuses and disorients millions of people every year. 

In fact, I forgot about DST entirely and booked a 6:30 a.m. flight to Florida for spring break last week. Of course, this really meant the flight took off at 5:30 a.m., and my alarm blaring at 4 a.m. was actually blaring at 3 a.m. As I sat exhausted at an empty airport gate, I began to think, “There must be a better way.” 

Luckily for me and other weary travelers, a solution could come as early as next year. Earlier this month, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) spearheaded a bipartisan effort to make DST permanent by 2023. Rubio’s bill is known as the Sunshine Protection Act of 2021 (SPA), and he was joined by Sens. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), James Lankford (R-Okla.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Rick Scott (R-Fla.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). The Senate passed the Act on Tuesday, March 15, and it must now pass the House of Representatives before President Joe Biden decides whether to sign it into law. 

Rubio and Scott initially introduced the SPA with their fellow Florida congressman, Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) back in 2018. Rubio and Buchanan had modeled the proposal after the permanent DST bill passed in their home state that year, and then-President Donald Trump even tweeted his support for permanent DST. However, the bill died in committee twice during the Trump era. 

As with most bipartisan legislation, the benefits of the SPA are immense and well-articulated in Rubio’s proposal. First, switching to permanent DST benefits the economy by reducing health issues such as cardiac arrest, strokes and seasonal depression. A study by the investment banking giant JPMorgan Chase found that the start and end of DST leads to a 2.2% consumer spending decrease in San Diego, California.

A mock car crash. Permanent DST would reduce the number of vehicle accidents across the country. Photo by Pixabay/Pexels

Second, permanent DST reduces the number of robberies and vehicle accidents across the country. A 2015 Brookings study found that the frequency of robberies decreased 27% during the hour of evening sunlight after “springing forward.” Likewise, a 1995 American Journal of Public Health study estimated that “901 fewer fatal crashes … might have occurred if daylight saving time had been retained year-round from 1987 through 1991.” 

Third, permanent DST promotes youth fitness and discourages obesity by giving children an extra hour to play outside after school. Rubio even suggested that early sunsets caused by switching to Standard Time in the fall lead to the cancellation of youth sporting events. 

“I’ve seen it with my own eyes,” Rubio said on the Senate floor after the SPA’s passage. “I’ve watched youth sporting events be called in the middle or near the end of the game, before it’s actually concluded, because there’s not enough lights.” 

I could not find evidence to support this claim, but maybe Rubio wants the spring breakers descending upon his state after springing forward to be a little less tired. I’ll take his word for it. 

Jokes aside, there is one major obstacle that has prevented political action on permanent DST for decades: late winter sunrises. Contrary to popular belief, “springing forward” and “falling back” do not add or subtract an hour of daylight to the 24-hour day; they merely shift sunrise and sunset times further into the evening or morning, respectively. Around and after the Dec. 21 winter solstice, sunrise times are already at their latest of the year, and making DST permanent would only push them later.

The sun rising over the city. On Dec. 21st in Hartford, Connecticut, the sun will rise at 7:15 am. Photo by Hello Cotton/Pexels

For example, the sun will rise at 7:15 a.m. this Dec. 21 in Hartford, Connecticut. Hartford’s location in New England gives it an earlier-than-average sunrise compared to locations in Ohio, Indiana and other westerly locations within the Eastern time zone. With permanent DST, Hartford’s winter solstice sunrise would not come until 8:15 a.m., and almost 9 a.m. in cities like Cincinnati. No commuter likes heading to work before sunrise, but more importantly, no parent wants their child walking to the bus stop alone in the darkness. 

Thankfully, I believe there is a very practical solution to perfectly balance America’s DST dilemma. The SPA should be amended such that, this November, everyone sets their clocks back 30 minutes instead of an hour and simply leaves them there next spring. In Hartford, this would create a 7:45 a.m. to 4:53 p.m. daylight period on the winter solstice, which is certainly preferable to an 8:15 a.m. sunrise or 4:23 p.m. sunset. 

Of course, there are problems with this approach. While we’re considering amendments to DST — and more broadly, time zones — states like Indiana and Arizona must make up their minds. The current SPA does not mandate states and territories who do not observe DST to begin doing so, but it should go a step further and establish a way for more uniform time zones for these states. 

Indiana sits on the western edge of the Eastern time zone, and certain counties in the northwestern and southwestern parts of the state observe Central time. If it was up to me, the entire Hoosier State would observe Central time to better align with the Chicagoland area economically. My proposed 30-minute permanent DST would also keep Indiana’s sunrises from becoming too early. 

I can apply similar logic to the state of Arizona. As it does not observe DST at all, Arizona observes Pacific time in the summer and Mountain time in the winter, and Navajo County just does whatever it pleases. Any DST proposal should require making time in the Grand Canyon State more uniform. 

Lastly, the problem of Alaska and Hawaii — I say align them as well. Just like Indiana and Chicago, aligning the two non-contiguous states would promote economic activity between them. I recognize that doing this could throw off the sunrise and sunset times in Alaska, but no proposal is ideal. If a solution must leave anyone behind, let it be those who choose to live in a state that receives less than five hours of daylight on the winter solstice. 

To those who cringe at the thought of American time zones being half an hour out of whack with the rest of the world, just remember that all of India observes a time zone five-and-a-half hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time. Of course, I am not suggesting that America switch to a single time zone, but observing the half-hour has not hindered India’s rapid economic and cultural developments in recent years. 

Making a complicated, yet permanent and sensible reform would end the antiquated practice of DST once and for all. Consider this my endorsement of the #LockTheClock movement. To conclude with a multiple-meaning: It’s about time! 

Leave a Reply