The Fall Back Plan

Did everybody Fall Back this week? If you live in Arizona or Hawaii, the answer would be ‘no’. These two states have opted to stay with Standard Time and their residents avoid the twice yearly jet lag most of us face when we change our clocks.

The demonstrated negative effects of time adjustments on health and safety have recently led a few additional states to explore the possibility of avoiding this annoying semi-annual ritual. Massachusetts and California are among the states that have been considering staying with one time zone year-round. Unfortunately, these well-intentioned efforts threaten to make our annual seasonal affective disorder much worse, i.e. they recommend that the US adopt 12 month Standard Time!

What’s the downside of that, you ask? Well, look out the window. Depending on where you live, it’s getting dark now between 3 and 5 pm. Your afternoon or evening commute is likely to be in pitch blackness after an exhausting day at work or school. But, you continue, isn’t it worth facing the early sunset to be able to get up with the dawn? I suppose, if you like sunshine to stream in your window at 6 am and nudge you awake. But, if you work 9 to 5, you’ll see the sun overhead when you leave for the office at 8:30, well hidden by your car visor. Winter cocooners who like to sleep in until 7:30 or 8 will have lost a precious hour or two of sunlight unless they grudgingly become early birds. Better to have the sun rise at 7-8 am and enjoy your traffic-filled commute in the daylight both ways. And, if you do have to leave for work before 8, isn’t setting off in a light gray dawn, when you’re well-rested after a good night’s sleep, safer than driving home fighting fatigue after sunset?

All right, but what about schoolchildren who have to be at the bus stop or campus by 6 or 7? You don’t want them waiting outside in the cold and dark, do you? Well, of course not. It’s terrible! No, not because of the weather. A number of research studies have shown that teens do better in school when class starts later. A 9 am start time for students would allow parents and buses to drive children to school in sunlight…and then provide an extra hour or two of sunshine for healthy active play outdoors after school. (An hour of morning day care could help families whose schedules require earlier transports.)

Wait, don’t mention the farmers, please. That’s a trope…farmers can farm at the time they choose, no matter what the clock reads. In any case, most farming in the US today on agribusiness properties, not Mom and Pop acreage, so, for farm employees, it’s a regular job. (See above.)

Okay, now, seriously. Maybe it is time for us to re-visit the Fall and Spring dance we do with our watches. I can’t disagree. But, as they consider the available options, legislators should endeavor to preserve as much daylight for as many people as possible. Year-long Standard Time would wake us up brutally early, and, if established for an entire year, minimize our brighter evenings in spring, summer, and autumn when we now enjoy our communities, neighbors, family, and pets in the sun-lit outdoors. If we do want to move to a year-round system, the first choice should be 12 months of Daylight Savings Time, coupled with later start times for schools, to maximize usable and enjoyable sunshine. So, state legislators, if you want to improve on our current chronometric disruptions, go for it. As long as the ‘it” is Daylight Savings!

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