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Why Daylight Saving Time may be with us forever

Time change opponents have become perpetual unwanted guests at legislatures from coast to coast, with their inconvenient facts about accidents, heart attacks, unhappiness and drowsiness.
Time change opponents have become perpetual unwanted guests at legislatures from coast to coast, with their inconvenient facts about accidents, heart attacks, unhappiness and drowsiness.
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Bob Dylan, of Nobel Prize fame, sang that “the times, they are a–changin.’” Notwithstanding the counter-cultural movements of the ’60s that concerned him when he wrote that, this will continue to be literally true twice a year for Utahns as they spring forward and fall back.

Once again, Utah lawmakers have beaten back an effort to take steps toward year-round uniformity. This time, they treated the public sort of the way Dylan treated the Nobel committee, by ignoring people.

Rep. Norm Thurston’s idea was to place a non-binding question on ballots in 2018, asking voters whether they would like the state to be exempt from Daylight Saving Time. That idea died in a committee meeting Tuesday, largely because lawmakers don’t like the idea of people getting to express themselves on matters lawmakers are elected to decide.

There’s more to it, of course, especially powerful opposition from golfers and the Utah Farm Bureau, which represents rural Utahns who work day jobs, then rely on an extra hour of sunlight to complete farm chores at night. (Thurston said federal law prohibits states from adopting the later Daylight Saving Time year-round without having all airports and federal facilities in that state operate on Standard Time part of the year.)

Thus, time change opponents have become perpetual unwanted guests at legislatures from coast to coast, with their inconvenient facts about how accidents increase, heart attacks rise, people become generally unhappy and folks engage unwittingly in something called “microsleeps.”

Sleepdex.org describes microsleeps as “brief, unintended episodes of loss of attention associated with events such as blank stare, head snapping, and prolonged eye closure. …” Thurston says this happens the first few days after each time change. A lot of people may be happy to testify they don’t need such an excuse.

Whenever this subject comes up, some readers remind me that, in their view, it is trivial. A time change is a minor and temporary inconvenience and, in their opinion, putting Utah on the same nonconformist time schedule as Arizona would do nothing but confuse people and make the state look weird.

But this year the discussion took a decidedly sober turn. At two separate committee hearings, Emily Wagner, a mother of a severely disabled child, testified about what the time change does to her daughter.

The girl is on a strict schedule when it comes to receiving medication, but because she also has to be to school at a certain time, where other medications are administered throughout the day, that schedule has to change with the clock. As a result, “My daughter, whenever we have to change the clocks, has seizures.”

These may come as frequently as 10 per hour, she said, and each one is potentially life-threatening.

“I’ve had people say this is just a minor inconvenience. Maybe to some people it is a minor inconvenience. To me and to my family, as I hold my baby girl for that hour and watch her seize and have seizures and seizures over and over for that hour … it breaks my heart.”

Wagner said she was speaking on behalf of parents of children with all sorts of special needs, including those with autism who rely on the comforting repetition of a daily schedule.

For these folks, the danger of encountering microsleeps is the least of their worries. “It does have a huge impact that’s detrimental to people with special needs, and it’s not just for one day,” Wagner said, noting it takes weeks for her daughter to adapt.

Her story made the subsequent testimony of golfers seem trivial by comparison.

In the end, however, the idea of keeping one time all year was shelved, just as it always has been here and elsewhere.

In an essay for Quartz media, writer and economist Allison Schrager explained why she thinks America never will let go of Daylight Saving Time. For one thing, the decision is up to states, and state leaders tend to think it’s bad for business to be out of sync. For another, retailers believe long nights translate into sales.

All of that sounds cruel compared to the needs Wagner described, but she and everyone else will just have to keep a-changing with the times.