Clarence Fanto: Daylight saving time idea is from dark ages

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LENOX — Once again, we must reject an idea that should never see the light of day.

After many months of study, the Special Commission on the Commonwealth's Time Zone recommended last week that Massachusetts should stay on daylight saving time all year round if a majority of other New England states, as well as New York, do the same.

"Any move to year-round daylight saving time should be regional, because acting alone would make Massachusetts a significant outlier, and could disrupt commerce, trade, interstate transportation and broadcasting," the report says.

Exquisite timing, just ahead of the annual switch back to Eastern Standard Time as of 2 a.m. Sunday. (Did you remember to "fall back?")

The concept remains as bizarre as when it surfaced several years ago. It would mean that the dark mornings we've been enduring for the past few weeks would continue much longer, with dawn breaking between 8 and 8:30 from late November until early February.

Schoolkids and adults heading for work would be in the gloom of darkness for close to three months, raising the risk of accidents and general discombobulation. All for a rather useless extra hour of light in the late afternoon, with sunset no earlier than 5:20 p.m. here in Western Massachusetts.

Fortunately, the commission acknowledged in its 9-1 vote supporting year-round daylight time that most of New England, as well as New York state, would all have to adopt the same approach. Approval also would be required by state lawmakers and the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Remarkably, the inclusion of New York was a last-minute change. State Rep. Paul Frost, R-Auburn, had the wherewithal to remind his colleagues that if Massachusetts and New York were in different time zones, travelers would be disrupted.

Berkshire residents who cross the state line regularly for many reasons would have to remember that Albany and the rest of the Empire State was an hour ahead of Massachusetts. Not to mention that, since we get our network TV programs from Albany, everything would begin an hour later from early November to mid-March.

"If you do not have New York, this is a no-go," Frost declared. Wisely, he ended up voting against the commission recommendation anyway.

The arguments in favor of the change are flimsy. Advocates claim that more people would shop and dine out with an extra hour of wintry daylight. The supporters argue with a straight face that electricity usage would decline. That's a theory that makes sense only if you believe that folks preparing to head to school or work in the pitch-black mornings would dress, make coffee and eat breakfast in the dark — and that schools and workplaces would keep their lights off in the early-morning darkness.

The report claims that there would be a reduction in traffic accidents because home-bound commuters would travel in daylight, not mentioning the very likely increase in early-morning mishaps with an hour of prolonged darkness.

A committee member who voted for the recommendation, state Rep. Dan Cahill, D-Lynn, derided the switchback to standard time as a "20th century policy that has outlived its usefulness in the 21st century world." But he conceded that for Massachusetts to act on its own "would be foolish, and some would say insane."

It's worth noting that Maine lawmakers have voted to support staying on daylight time year-round, but only if statewide voters approve and if Massachusetts and New Hampshire do the same.

State Sen. Eileen Donoghue, D-Lowell, the commission chairwoman, asserted that "there's no good reason why we're changing clocks twice a year." She also conceded that public schools would need to start later if the commission recommendation ever comes to pass.

But she agreed that a go-it-alone approach is not what the commission recommends.

"Massachusetts is not a big state. People travel back and forth over borders for work, for shopping and a lot of activities. And so, it would cause confusion if we went it alone," Donoghue said.

The commission report claims that "shorter winter nights would increase the state's competitiveness in attracting and retaining a talented workforce. "We love to attract millennials, and they love to come here and work," she told reporters, "but one thing we do hear from them is that they don't like the weather and they don't like it when it's dark."

Donoghue acknowledged that "this is the beginning of a discussion, not the end." Well, have at it if you must, but understand that this is an idea whose time will never come.

Contact Clarence Fanto at cfanto@yahoo.com. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of The Berkshire Eagle.

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