One man’s quixotic quest to put Massachusetts on daylight saving time all year was endorsed on Wednesday by a state commission formed to study the idea.
If it’s adopted, Massachusetts would move out of the Eastern Standard Time zone.
The panel, charged with studying whether Massachusetts should switch to Atlantic Standard Time, concluded in a draft report that the advantages would outweigh the disadvantages. Namely, the annual disruption in March, when clocks “spring” forward one hour to daylight saving time, would be eliminated and sunlight would last until later in the day during winter.
But there are big caveats:
Massachusetts couldn’t move to year-round daylight saving time alone; a majority of New England states would also have to switch, according to the report.
And starting times for schools should be pushed back, in part to avoid forcing students to commute in the dark.
The report also recommends extensive public outreach before any switch.
It was written by the commission’s chair, Eileen Donoghue, a state senator, and her staff. Changes could still be made: Donoghue is seeking comments from other commission members, and they are expected to vote on the report Nov. 1.
Any change would be years away, though. If the commission adopts the recommendation, it would then need to be endorsed by the Legislature and the US Department of Transportation.
“I think we’ve done a good job putting forth information and data that would support changing the way we’re doing it,” Donoghue said. “Just because we’ve always done it that way may not be good enough reason to keep doing it. But the solution is more complex.”
Representative Paul Frost, a Republican from Auburn who sits on the commission, remained skeptical.
“I think it’s going to be difficult, but you can never say never,” Frost said.
“Ultimately, we should probably just be sharing these findings and sharing these concerns and sending them to Congress. . . . It’s not something Massachusetts can do by itself.”
The report cites several potential benefits of using Atlantic Standard Time, including: Retailers could enjoy a boost in sales if more people shop and eat out because there is more light later in the day. And the change may make the state more attractive to out-of-state professionals by softening the sometimes depressing impact of Massachusetts winters.
Massachusetts is already aligned with Atlantic Standard Time for much of the year because of daylight saving time, which extends from the second Sunday in March to the first Sunday in November.
Extending that year round could increase productivity and curb on-the-job injuries as well as traffic fatalities, according to the report.
And it may spur more physical activity, as people stay outside longer during the winter, as well as reduce street crime. Electricity consumption and greenhouse gas emissions may also decline, because the peak demand for power often occurs in late afternoon.
There are significant downsides, however. They include potential confusion for interstate travelers, a mismatch for TV broadcasters that rely on New York time, and more darkness for children when they are going to school in the morning.
That’s why the report recommends the state move ahead only if most other New England states go along, and if schools open up later in the day. There is already a movement to push schools to start later, based on the belief that students would be more alert and engaged.
Officials elsewhere in New England are taking a wait-and-see approach, though bills have been filed in Maine, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Rhode Island to switch to year-round daylight saving time.
“Before anything could happen, you would need a critical mass of states that act in the same way,” Donoghue said. “There are a lot of implications to changing what we’re doing for those four months a year.”
It’s possible the final report will recommend that Massachusetts wait for New York to act.
“I would rather see all of New England go together, [and] the state of New York,” Frost said. “Now you’ve got something where you might get other states on the East Coast to follow you.”
The effort to shift time zones started as a bit of a lark.
Tom Emswiler, a public health advocate, proposed it after he moved to the area and was shocked by the early sunsets in winter.
He penned a column for the Globe in 2014, extolling the idea of moving Massachusetts onto Atlantic Standard Time for the entire year. He filed a citizen’s petition through his state senator to have a commission study the idea, and the provision was included in a bill passed in 2016.
Vote here and tell us what you think of staying on daylight saving all year:
Do you think Mass. should stay on daylight saving time all year? Tell us more here: https://t.co/9c4k2w96K4— The Boston Globe (@BostonGlobe) September 21, 2017