Has the time come to do something about the time? It has in New Hampshire, a bipartisan group of legislators argues, and they have introduced legislation to do so.
Specifically, House Bill 85 takes aim at the twice-yearly change of the clocks from Eastern Standard to Daylight Savings Time and back. Instead, HB 85 would move New Hampshire onto Atlantic Standard Time throughout the year, in effect putting New Hampshire permanently on Eastern Daylight Savings Time. In short, spring ahead once and forever, and never fall back.
Messing about with time zones is, well, messy. Time was — for most of time — that clocks were set locally, based on local sunrise and sunset. That meant, for example, clocks in Portsmouth might have been set about 10 minutes ahead of those in Keene. In days before fast travel and communication, that worked well enough. Widespread railroad travel and the need for greater uniformity forced change, and the four-zone system still mostly in place in the adjacent 48 states was created in the 1880s. As a result, New Hampshire today shares the same time with states from the Maine coast to the east to parts of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to the west.
So far, so good. But periodically moving clocks ahead for Daylight Savings Time has proved vexatious over the past hundred or so years. It was mandated by the federal government as an energy-saving measure during the two world wars, but otherwise individual states and even communities made their own choices as to whether to spring ahead each spring. For instance, Massachusetts adopted it following World War I, while New Hampshire refused. But, Granite Geek blogger David Brooks reports, many Manchester and Nashua businesses nevertheless advanced their work time ahead an hour to stay coordinated with Boston.
In 1966, Congress stepped in to impose uniformity. Though Congress has changed the start and end dates on occasion, the practice of moving clocks ahead as spring approaches and then back in the fall has been in place most everywhere since.
Rep. Josh Yokela of Fremont, the lead sponsor of HB 85, argues moving to permanent Daylight Savings Time will result in mental and health benefits by avoiding a jetlag-type effect from the time change, and another proponent told a legislative committee last week there are spikes in heart attacks and strokes right after the two time changes each year, the Union Leader reported. Opponents of permanent Daylight Savings Time marshal their own health-related arguments, and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recently concluded a permanent Standard Time is more beneficial for public health and safety.
Regardless of those arguments for and against, HB 85’s implementation would be troublesome. First, it would not take effect unless Maine and Massachusetts adopt the change. Coordinating with those states makes sense, but what about Vermont? There are cross-border school districts whose scheduling would confuse students and parents on opposite sides of the Connecticut River. And areas with regular cross-river travel patterns — this region included — would face challenges as employees, patients and consumers ping-pong from one time zone to the other for work, medical or other appointments and shopping, particularly when the time difference would disappear for roughly half the year.
What many may find even more distressing — given society’s dependence on entertainment programming — is that radio and television scheduling would be disrupted, a point made at the committee hearing by the N.H. Association of Broadcasters, many of whose members’ programming comes out of New York, according to the Union Leader report. In this context, we can’t help recalling comedian George Carlin’s news broadcast parody that began: “It’s 8 o’clock in Los Angeles. It’s 9 o’clock in Denver. It’s 10 o’clock in Chicago. In Baltimore, it’s 6:42 ... time for the 11 o’clock report.”
The HB 85 exercise in Concord is mostly academic. Even if it’s enacted, not only must Massachusetts and Maine first adopt it, but Congress must also approve the change. The sole benefit of the bill is to demonstrate a national solution is needed for whether Daylight Savings Time becomes permanent. Bipartisan legislation to make the spring ahead permanent throughout the country has been introduced in Congress by Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Patty Murray of Washington. That’s a far more rational approach to sorting out and addressing the complexities. Putting New Hampshire’s clocks in sync with Bermuda’s, but not Vermont’s, is a waste of time.