Time sensitive: Second thoughts about our clock changes

State House panel studied a possible switch to Atlantic Standard Time.

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A Massachusetts commission has found potential positive benefits to switching to Atlantic Standard time, but hesitates on recommending it to legislators. —Stacey Rupolo

A commission given the task of studying a possible switch to Atlantic Standard Time (AST) for Massachusetts concluded the change would have “positive benefits,” but stopped short of recommending it, according to a report by the State House News Service.

The commission issued its final report just days ahead of that annual ritual of setting the clocks back an hour as Daylight Saving Time ends. If Massachusetts were to switch permanently to AST, it would, in effect, be on the same time zone as Daylight Saving Time, and eliminate the need to “spring forward” an hour every March.

“The commission does not recommend a simple switch, and cautions that following certain qualifiers should accompany any future conversation and legislative approvals,” Sen. Eileen Donoghue, who chaired the commission, said Wednesday. “The commission is not making any recommendation as to legislation; the commission is not making recommendations as to any action to be taken by Massachusetts alone.”

According to the State House News Service, a switch to AST “has the potential to create economic growth in Massachusetts as people tend to shop, dine out, and engage in commercial activities more in after-work daylight,” and that the switch “could improve public health in the commonwealth by eliminating the annual transition to [Daylight Saving Time] — and the corresponding increase in traffic fatalities, workplace injuries, and heart attacks.” The change could also produce energy savings, cut down on greenhouse gas emissions, reduce street crime, and boost worker productivity, the report states.

Still, any switch would come with “appreciable costs,” and could also have detrimental effects, specifically on education. The report found that the time zone change “could pose a safety risk during the winter to children waiting for the school bus in the dark and to adolescents driving in the early morning.” The commission also recommended switching only if other Northeast states also make the change.

The report got us to wondering what Islanders think of making a switch. We asked on various forums, got about a dozen responses, and the results were mixed, but the majority favored a switch away from Daylight Saving Time, but not necessarily a switch to Atlantic Standard Time.

Something people may not realize about a switch to AST is that it would put Massachusetts an hour ahead of New York, the U.S. financial capital, and Eastern Standard Time, which often is the basis for setting times for events like the Academy Awards and the Super Bowl.

“That would keep people in Massachusetts up later to watch the Patriots,” David Prerau, author of “Seize the Daylight,” said in a conversation with The Times. There are other drawbacks, too, like creating nonuniform times with other parts of the country. For example, the time difference with California for four months a year would be three hours, and four hours the rest of the year, Mr. Prerau said.

It was Benjamin Franklin who first discussed the concept of Daylight Saving Time. Mr. Franklin talked about the idea of preserving candles by taking full advantage of sunlight, Mr. Prerau said. But it was British builder William Willett who worked for years trying to get it introduced in the early 1900s.

Daylight Saving Time was first adopted by Germany during World War I; other countries followed and “saved precious fuel” for the war effort, Mr. Prerau said. During the 1973 Arab Oil Embargo, the United States went to Daylight Saving Time year-round, and saved 3 million barrels of oil each month, according Mr. Prerau’s website. The law was supposed to be in effect for two years, Mr. Prerau said, but people disliked going to work in the dark and sending their children to school on cold, dark mornings, especially in the Northeast. “It was so unpopular they changed the law after only one year,” he said.

In 2007, the last time the Daylight Saving Time law was changed in the U.S., a month was added to the length of time it’s in effect — it now starts three weeks earlier in April and ends one week into November.

“Changing the clocks, forward or back an hour, never made sense to me,” wrote Daniel Phelan. “I’ve heard a few unsubstantiated claims about its efficacy at ameliorating the burdens of the arrival of light or darkness. Being forced to practice Daylight Saving Time has been a source of frustration at points in my life, and once I had kids, even fits of rage. OK, maybe that was a little overboard, but really, the practice has never demonstrated any benefit to my productivity or well-being.”

Humanity’s obsession with time had to do with wanting to predict how much more of it someone has left, Mr. Phelan wrote. “Time is God, and I don’t see any reason to play one in this regard,” he wrote. “I think every effort should be made, from all corners of society, to eradicate the strange and antiquated practice known as Daylight Saving Time.”

While Josh Levy and Jim Pringle said “make the switch” to AST, Fred Hancock wrote that it would be a bad idea putting Massachusetts out of sync with other Eastern states. “It is just a facet of life in New England,” Mr. Hancock wrote. “What is so difficult about changing a clock.”

On The Times Facebook page, Jessica Burnham wrote that she’d appreciate a switch. “I love my sunsets,” she wrote. “Winter just about kills me every year.”

Bill Burke is more of an early riser. “I don’t wanna see sunrise at 8 am in winter,” he wrote.

And Bill Healy had a unique idea: “Why not move the clocks back [a] 1/2 hour and leave it there?”