In Samoa last week the entire nation decided to skip Dec. 30. It simply was stricken from the calendar as the island moved from Dec. 29 directly to New Year's Eve.
The nation was tired of lagging nearly a day behind Australia and New Zealand, its chief trading partners. Samoans were enjoying relaxing Sundays while Australians and New Zealanders were open for business on Monday. By skipping a day, the nation moved to the other side of the international dateline, where it now is three hours ahead of Australia.
Arguments over time and time zones are nothing new to the planet. So when state Rep. Jim Nielson, R-Bountiful, drafted a bill he plans to introduce to the 2012 Legislature that would opt Utah out of daylight saving time, he wasn't being as radical as many Utahns might believe. But when lawmakers consider this bill, they also ought to weigh all its potential consequences and act carefully.
Governments long ago made sundials virtually irrelevant. In the early years of the United States, each town operated in its own time zone. As railroads and commerce expanded, time confusion became both costly and deadly. The railroads finally created four standard time zones in 1883, but many Americans fiercely resisted the move. Congress didn't act to make the time zones law until 1918, which also was when it first adopted daylight saving time.
The idea originated with Benjamin Franklin, who wanted to allow for a better use of daylight for business and pleasure. But it proved so unpopular that Congress repealed the law in 1919. It returned as a year-round change during World War II as "war time." But confusion reigned after the war, as states and localities essentially observed the time change when, and as, they pleased.
That libertarian approach made life miserable for airlines, trains, radio and television stations, not to mention people trying to arrange business calls and trips. In 1966 Congress made daylight saving standard and allowed states to opt out. Today, Arizona and Hawaii, two perpetually sunny states, don't participate.
The argument over Utah's involvement comes down to a question of priorities. Are uniformity (important for business and transportation) and energy savings (studies show daylight saving saves electricity) more important than human health (switching times causes reactions similar to jet lag) and safety (children end up walking to school in darkness when the switch takes place)?
If it opts out, Utah would suffer somewhat from confusion as people outside the state attempt to do business here. That may not be a huge consideration. The health and safety effects, however, should be studied carefully.
Some research, such as a study published last year in the Journal of Neuroscience, Psychology and Economics, has found a link between the yearly time shifts and a drop in standardized test scores. These results were observed throughout Indiana, where until 2006 some counties changed times while others did not.
Other studies have suggested a correlation between the time change and traffic accidents as people struggle against fatigue.
But the issue needs much more study. Utah lawmakers ought to act carefully and deliberately and base their decision on more than just public irritation. Time standards have long caused arguments, and public passions change. Samoa, after all, has been through this before. It decided to add a day back in 1982 so it could be more in line with the United States.