As war rages in Ukraine, inflation skyrockets to unprecedented highs and businesses brace for possible cyberattacks, Republicans and Democrats alike have their work cut out for them. While solutions to these issues remain elusive, Congress has been able to take action on a seemingly less urgent topic: daylight saving time. In a rare show of bipartisanship, the Senate unanimously passed the Sunshine Protection Act. If signed into law by the House of Representatives and President Biden, the bill would permanently move the entire country (except for Arizona and Hawaii) to Daylight Saving Time (DST) and do away with the four-month annual period of Standard Time that moves clocks one hour earlier from November to March.
The Sunshine Protection Act, sponsored by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., has obvious appeal. It would end the decades-long custom of “springing forward” every March and “falling back” every November. This practice, which is disruptive to sleep schedules and may even be bad for our health, forces people to groggily adjust their internal clocks twice a year.
The bill, as its name suggests, would also “protect” the country’s sunshine by delivering another hour of daylight every afternoon during the fall and winter months. On Dec. 21, 2021 — the shortest day of the last calendar year — the sun set in Ann Arbor at 5:05 p.m., before most people usually eat dinner. Night fell over New York and Chicago even earlier, by around 4:30 p.m. Under the Sunshine Protection Act, sunset would have come a full hour later, giving people more daylight in the evening for outdoor activities and commuting home from work or classes.
But the Sunshine Protection Act isn’t all good. The bill has a dark side that most people either don’t understand or fail to acknowledge. Despite its broad support, passing this bill into law isn’t in the best interest of the American people. The Senate has jumped the gun on protecting our sunshine without weighing the massive drawbacks such a move would entail.
What’s the problem with the Sunshine Protection Act? First and foremost, its supporters only tell half of the story. While the sun would set an hour later every day between November and March (when we revert to Standard Time under current law), the Sunshine Protection Act wouldn’t actually protect our sunshine at all. It would merely shift our daylight from the morning to the evening, effectively pushing the sunrise each morning an hour later. Later sunrises might not seem like a huge problem at first. But a closer look at the impacts of one hour less of sunlight every morning reveals deep problems with this bill that should have prevented it from passing in the Senate.
Instead of rising on Dec. 21 at 8:00 a.m. here in Ann Arbor, the Sunshine Protection Act would’ve pushed sunrise to a startling 9:00 a.m. For a student or worker here who wakes up at a traditional time like 7:00 A.M. they’d be greeted by two full hours of complete darkness before the sun comes up. The problem is exacerbated for communities located on the western edges of their respective time zones. In Marquette, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, sunrise on Dec. 21 wouldn’t have come until 9:30 a.m. Some communities in western North Dakota, which is located in the Central Time Zone, wouldn’t see daylight until almost 10:00 a.m.
Rather than protect sunlight, the Sunshine Protection Act guarantees that people near the western edges of their time zones around the country wake up every day in darkness. This isn’t just irritating and inconvenient for the people in these areas who wake up at a reasonable hour. It’s deeply problematic for the health and safety of society. Perhaps the group that will be most disadvantaged by the Sunshine Protection Act is students. School starts at 8:00 a.m. at the average public high school, and many schools start even earlier. Proponents of the Sunshine Protection Act cite the benefits of universal DST for students, such as the added daylight in the afternoon for after-school sports and extracurriculars. But these benefits are unclear since most activities are already held indoors during the winter months outside of some southern states like Florida where the weather is warm enough for them to be held outside.
Even if a successful case can be made for the health benefits of the additional afternoon sunlight, these benefits are far outweighed by the safety hazards students would face every morning walking to school or waiting at the bus stop in total darkness. We need not look far back in history to see that this bill would put students in harm’s way on a daily basis. In the 1970s, America tried the same thing proposed in the Sunshine Protection Act, and the results were disastrous. Children heading to school were, on numerous occasions, struck by cars on dark winter mornings, resulting in injuries and deaths. In Florida alone, eight children were killed in accidents soon after the change took effect. Between December 1973 and February 1974, public support for the nationwide experiment nearly dropped by half, from 79% to 42%, leading Congress to repeal the measure and return the clocks to normal. Fast forward 50 years, there’s no reason to believe anything will be different the second time around.
While students would face unacceptable risks under this proposal, they’re far from the sole group affected. A growing number of experts are sounding the alarm over the health impacts of permanent DST for people of all ages and backgrounds. The current practice of “falling back” and “springing forward” is already bad for our health, but doctors argue the Sunshine Protection Act would make matters even worse. Researchers say permanent DST could lead to “a more sustained negative health impact” and greater risks of cancer as well as metabolic and cardiovascular disorders, according to the Wall Street Journal. If one of the primary aims of universal DST is eliminating the dreaded biannual time change, it’s unclear why the Senate hasn’t considered permanent Standard Time instead. This option hasn’t received enough attention and deserves serious consideration.
Ultimately, daylight saving time may have some benefits, but the drawbacks of switching to DST permanently are overwhelming and clear. Before the Sunshine Protection Act becomes law, it’s critical our lawmakers pump the brakes on this legislation and weigh the real costs of transforming how we keep time.
Evan Stern is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.