It doesn’t have to be this way.
Early Sunday morning, Massachusetts residents set their clocks back an hour, and the misery begins anew. Sunsets that fade before 5 p.m. Commutes in pitch darkness.
Sadly, Massachusetts can’t change the quantity of wintertime sunlight available to us. But it can at least arrange those few precious hours in the most humane way possible.
That’s what would happen if Massachusetts follows the recommendations of a legislative commission to change time zones and stop observing time changes. Summers would stay the same, but in the winter it would still be light at 5 p.m. While there are downsides that would need to be mitigated, moving to the Atlantic time zone and ditching time changes would be a smart move for Massachusetts.
Ample research confirms the negative effects early darkness has on economic development, crime, energy use, and public health. Most retailers would welcome the additional late afternoon daylight, since consumers are more likely to shop in sunlight. An extra hour of sun on winter afternoons makes it easier to go for a run or exercise outside. Darkness also encourages criminal activity, as a recent study confirms: An additional hour of daylight in the evening could bring a 7 percent decrease in robberies. The commission’s report notes that it would also strengthen the state’s economic competitiveness, by making Massachusetts winters a little more tolerable for college graduates.
But the more substantial benefits come from ditching the twice-a-year time change.
In March, sleep patterns suffer when clocks “spring forward.” Research shows that traffic fatalities and workplace injuries increase in the days following the transition. The New England Journal of Medicine published a study that found that heart attacks increase in the three days following the time change. (The study showed that the incidence of heart attacks does decrease after the “fall back” Sunday in November — but only for a day.)
The drawback, of course, is that sunrise as late as 8:15 a.m. doesn’t appeal to many. If Massachusetts changes its time zone, the commission also recommends delaying school start times in Massachusetts, a sensible policy in its own right that would likely improve student performance. Moving year-round to Atlantic time would mean that the state would be an hour ahead of the rest of the East Coast for four months a year, a possible inconvenience for travelers and businesses. The commission recommended switching only when other New England states agree. That’s a sensible idea, and four of the other five New England states are already considering the move.
With short days, snowstorms, and space-saver wars, winters in Massachusetts are bleak enough. Time zone reform might not ever stir the hearts of legislators, but it would provide a real ray of sunshine to their constituents .