Kansen Chu, a freshman assemblyman from San Jose, made big headlines this week by proposing to eliminate daylight saving time in California. Like many legislative proposals, this one came from a constituent – specifically, Chu's dentist – who pointed him to some research on the effects of changing the clocks on the human body.
"The internal clock is just jetlagged," Chu says, citing a higher incidence of heart attacks and workplace accidents due to the loss of an hour's sleep in the spring. "For me, it might take three or four days, or sometimes a week to be fully accustomed to a new time zone."
On Friday, Chu held a press conference announcing his plan to do away with daylight saving time once and for all. In March, when the rest of the country springs forward, California clocks would stay put. Sunrises would come an hour earlier than usual, reaching 4:40 a.m. by the middle of June. And there would be one less hour of light in the evening, with sunsets never getting later than 7:08 p.m.
When daylight saving time was first implemented 100 years ago, the idea was to save electricity by reducing the need for artificial light. But Chu says times have changed. With the spread of air conditioning, homes may actually use less power after the sun goes down. When Indiana adopted daylight saving time in 2006, a study showed energy consumption actually went up by 1 percent.
"We don’t yield any energy savings, and we are causing some potential health challenges for the vulnerable," he says.
So far, Chu says the reaction has been positive. The change would have to go to the voters for approval, possibly in November. A couple of legislators stopped Chu in the hall and offered to co-author his bill. He spoke to a group of seniors in San Jose, and they also seemed supportive.
But daylight saving time can be a contentious issue.
"When you lose an hour, it affects some people a lot, some people not at all, and some a little bit," says David Prerau, author of Seize the Daylight, a history of daylight saving time. "However, daylight saving time has benefits and those last eight months."
More light on summer evenings reduces crime and traffic crashes, Prerau says. It also lets people get out and exercise more. He also pointed to research showing that when daylight saving time was extended nationwide by four weeks in 2007, energy use went down.
If California decided to stay on standard time year-round, that could create some headaches, especially for anyone who does business in other states. In the summer months, California would be four hours behind the East Coast, not three. Stock traders in San Francisco would have to get up an extra hour early to be ready for the opening bell in New York. It also would be more difficult to schedule live events, such as the World Series, at times when the whole country could tune in.
This was the main reason Indiana switched to daylight saving time, Prerau says. "Businessmen felt that people who were calling from out of state didn’t know what time it was," he says. "They were calling at the wrong time because it wasn't the same difference all the time." Arizona and Hawaii are now the only states that do not use daylight saving time.
Prerau, a computer scientist with a specialty in artificial intelligence, stumbled into the topic while doing some research for the government. He ended up becoming a leading expert on the topic, getting quoted in newspapers, magazines and TV shows whenever the subject comes up.
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"Most people have an opinion on it," he says. "Most people like it. They like the fact that they have an extra hour in the evening for seven or eight months. Some people dislike it. Sometimes people who dislike it speak a little louder."
There is another camp – those who believe daylight saving time should be year-round. If it's good to have an extra hour in the summer, why not winter as well? If standard time were abolished, then sunset in L.A. would never come earlier than 6 p.m. Sunrise would be as late as 8 a.m.
Chu says that's actually what he would prefer. But federal law prohibits it. He says he plans to ask Congress to change the law to allow year-round daylight saving time.
"One thing I guarantee – all of California will have the same amount of sunlight," he says. "We're not taking the sunlight away from anybody."