New daylight saving time bill stirs debate among scientists

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Derrick Brutel | flickr

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The U.S. Senate passed a bill on Mar. 15 to make daylight saving time permanent starting in 2023.

With a unanimous vote, the Senate passed the Sunshine Protection Act. If the House of Representatives passes it and President Joe Biden signs off, the yearly tradition of changing the clock twice a year will be replaced with a permanent switch to daylight saving time as the new standard.

Daylight saving is the practice of switching clocks forward by an hour on the second Sunday of March to gain an extra one hour of daylight in the evenings. The bill will eliminate the tradition of “falling back” an hour on the first Sunday of November.

If this act is enacted into law, the new normal will leave Americans four hours behind Greenwich Mean Time, the common reference for all time zones, resulting in later sunrises and sunsets.

The origin of switching to daylight saving time in the United States dates to World War I. It was adopted again during World War II to conserve energy and eventually was implemented nationwide in 1960s.

This is not the first attempt to change standard time. In 1974, the United States switched to daylight saving permanently to preserve energy following an oil embargo imposed by the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries.

The U.S. abandoned it the same year, following complaints from parents about their children going to school in the dark and a number of road accidents involving minors.

Sen. Macro Rubio, who cosponsored the new bill, addressed the decades-old concerns about school safety by arguing schools should start later, claiming schools already start “at the worst time for adolescents.”

General public opinion polls show most Americans are opposed to switching clocks biannually because many experience health issues the day after the change.

According to data collected by U.S. National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, the number of fatal accidents on the road increases from an average of 78.2 on a regular Monday to 83.5 on the Monday after clocks jump forward in the spring.

Most people agree on the need for an official standard time switching clocks, but whether it should be daylight saving time or standard time is where the debate gets heated.

Supporters of the bill using daylight saving time as the new standard argue it will reduce energy consumption, since extending daylight would lower electricity use for artificial lighting. With later sunsets, individuals will be able to spend more time in the sun, which has health benefits associated with rest and happiness.

Extra sunlight in the evening would allow Americans to partake in more leisure activities before and after work, and the bill supporters also argue the extra hour will lead to a decrease in robberies and car crashes.

“Simply put, darkness kills. And darkness in the evening is far deadlier than darkness in the morning,” Steve Calandrillo, a law professor at the University of Washington, said, according to CBS News.

“The evening rush hour is twice as fatal as the morning for various reasons — far more people are on the road, more alcohol is in drivers’ bloodstream, people are hurrying to get home, and more children are enjoying outdoor, unsupervised play.”

There are also economic benefits to daylight saving time since leisure industries and gas stations tend to make larger profits with more time in the evening for people to be out spending money. A study by JPMorgan Chase & Co. found that shoppers spent less in the month directly after the switch back to standard time.

But some scientists think having the daylight saving time as the new standard is a bad idea, arguing brighter evenings and brighter mornings will be detrimental for mental health and noting there are limited studies to prove the extra sunlight improves sleep and happiness.

The one hour difference seems miniscule compared to days and months, but it can negatively impact circadian rhythm.

Suddenly springing forward an hour can cause “circadian misalignment,” which is especially detrimental to people with sleep disorders, autism, or even jobs with a fluid schedule.

Many scientists are proponents of having the standard time become permanent, most prominently the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. This change would generally create brighter mornings and darker evenings.

Experts who support this change argue it would be more aligned with the progression of the sun, and thus the human biological clock. Additionally, the darkness in the evenings will aid with melatonin production, a hormone that triggers sleep.

Many states have already enacted the permanent daylight saving time like Hawaii and most of Arizona prior to this bill. The proposed act claims “States with areas exempt from daylight saving time may choose the standard time for those areas.”

The fate of the bill is now in the hands of the House, which has yet to bring it up for debate.