Turn off the dark: Rep. Marcus Riccelli wants to kill the Daylight Saving Time switch

click to enlarge Turn off the dark: Rep. Marcus Riccelli wants to kill the Daylight Saving Time switch
Daniel Walters photo
Would you rather have your winter sunsets at 4:30 pm or 5:30 pm?

You can't always stop the darkness. But maybe you can, at least, delay it an hour.

That's the thinking behind one of Rep. Marcus Riccelli's bills this year. He's proposing moving the state to Daylight Saving Time permanently.

In other words, the next time Washington state springs forward, changing its clocks an hour ahead for Daylight Saving Time, he proposes we stay there, and don't ever fall back.

Yes, that would mean darker mornings. But it would also mean that it wouldn't get dark at 4:30 pm during the depths of winter. It would mean you'd see more sunrises in the mornings. And, it's one of those little changes that might, literally, save lives. The time switch in the spring arguably results in more heart attacks and more car accidents.

It's a real bill with six other co-sponsors. There are two similar bills in the state Senate. And if Washington state passes it, it wouldn't necessarily be alone. Last year, Florida, the Sunshine State, passed the "Sunshine Protection Act," making it Daylight Saving Time year round. California voters overwhelmingly did the same.

The problem? "The caveat is it takes federal approval," Riccelli says.

Oddly, United States law allows a state like Arizona to stick with standard time the entire year if it chooses. But if a state wants to stick with the longer evening lights of Daylight Saving time, they need federal permission. Riccelli's bill recognizes that. Even if the bill passes, it would take action from either Congress or the Secretary of Transportation before the changes take effect.

And so far, despite Sen. Marco Rubio's best efforts, federal approval hasn't been granted to any of the sunshine-protecting states. But that could change if enough other states like Washington and Oregon join with Florida and California.

Riccelli says he first became interested in the topic because of the health aspect.

"By changing clocks, you're throwing off your circadian rhythms," Riccelli says. But he says he too, has been frustrated with the early nights when the time changes in the winter.

"I never enjoyed walking out of the office and it’s pitch black," he says. "For parents who have kids who play after school activities, those things start getting cut back as it gets darker sooner... It’s hard for those kids to get out of school and it’s dark. "

Riccelli says he suspects that voters would support the proposal if it became a ballot initiative as well.

Benjamin Franklin — as any National Treasure fan knows joked about Daylight Saving Time back in 1784, but researcher Austin Smith explains that it was only formerly proposed by an "entomologist who wanted more light in the evenings to pursue his passion of collecting insects." From there it became adopted during World War I and II — with the intention of saving energy — before becoming a permanent fixture in peacetime. (It's a myth that Daylight Saving Time was pushed by the agricultural lobby.)

Smith's review of the scientific literature in a 2016 American Economic Journal suggests not just that getting rid of the jarring Daylight Saving Time switch might be beneficial, but also that having more light in the evenings has a number of other advantages.

Crime is lower in the morning, he writes, but higher in the dark. If you have more light in the evenings, some research suggests, you might have less crime. More people might exercise too, Smith writes. As for car crashes:

"Since fatal crashes are more prevalent in the evening, it is possible that transferring light from a lower risk morning period to a higher risk evening period could lead to a net reduction in fatal crashes," he explains.

Riccelli recognizes there are arguments against his proposal, many of them logistical. It could be annoying to have to effectively change time zones in winter months whenever you drive into Idaho and then again if you drive into Montana. Some of his constituents raised questions about whether it could put kids walking to school in the dark more at risk.

(Riccelli says he's asking the state's Transporation Safety Commission to look into whether there are any upticks in accidents with kids who are going to school in the dark under the current system.)

There's also the issue of dealing with the east time zone. Assuming that New York keeps making the daylight saving switch every year, the time difference between New York and Washington would be four hours in the winter.

And also, he says, he's got a few complaints that there were more important issues to be talking about. Sure, Riccelli acknowledges, there are a lot of important issues. But people really seem to like talking about Daylight Saving Time.

"I would love if this many people wanted to chat about my food insecurity bill," Riccelli says.