Editorial: Daylight saving time is messy but the norm

A new bill would ask Californians to reconsider daylight saving time, which begins again on March 13.
A new bill would ask Californians to reconsider daylight saving time, which begins again on March 13. Special to The Bee

It’s antiquated. It’s annoying. It’s the bane of every bleary-eyed wage slave who ever overslept or underslept or missed a meeting due to failure to “spring forward” or “fall back.”

Everybody loves to hate daylight saving time, in theory. But the prospect of jettisoning it may not be as sunny as some Californians may think.

A bill by Assemblyman Kansen Chu, D-San Jose, would ask California voters to reconsider the temporal tradition, which was approved in this state in 1949 via – what else? – a ballot proposition. Nationally, the supposedly energy-saving practice of setting clocks an hour ahead in the spring and then turning them back to standard time in autumn has been making summer days seem longer, off and on, since 1918.

Chu asserts that the ritual’s unintended drawbacks now outweigh its upsides, as studies have linked daylight saving with lower productivity, increased workplace accidents, heart attacks and sleep disruption. And, he notes, it’s not clear that it saves energy, either, because longer days just give people more time to drive their cars and crank up their air conditioning.

Chu makes good points. But Californians should think this through before ending the practice altogether. The debate over daylight saving isn’t a new one, and other states have learned that life with and without it has pros and cons.

For instance, when Congress extended daylight saving time by a month in 2005, the Air Transport Association warned that keeping U.S. flights lined up with international travel schedules would cost $147 million. Amtrak would feel similar pain.

Messing with the clocks also complicates other costs of doing business. Imagine trying to coordinate deadlines, conference calls and deliveries for a company with divisions and contractors in other states that continue to adhere to daylight saving time. Imagine having to constantly remind people elsewhere in the United States what time it is in California now.

Such hassles were what drove Indiana, for example, to finally institute daylight saving time back in 2006, after long being a national outlier.

That seemingly good switch didn’t end well, as stakeholders and counties almost immediately demanded exceptions. Now that nice, Midwestern state has the bulk of its population on Eastern time and a handful of Hoosiers in the Central time zone, the better to align with Chicago and Louisville.

Which isn’t to say that, as the March 13 “spring forward” date approaches, California should consign Chu’s Assembly Bill 2496 to some dark Capitol corner. Just that when legislators tinker with the voters’ circadian rhythms, they can expect to lose sleep over it.