Daylight-Saving Time Dawns in Indiana

Aside from open containers in Montana or the Confederate flag in South Carolina, few regional-specific issues are as polarizing and ingrained as Indiana's do-it-yourself time system.

If you're a Hoosier, you're either for daylight-saving time (DST) or against it. The nays had it until April when a state law was enacted requiring Indiana next year to join 47 other states that "fall back" and "spring forward." Arizona and Hawaii do not observe DST because additional evening sunlight would not benefit their sun-saturated climates.

Setting clocks ahead an hour adds daylight to summer evenings and is based on the notion that more business is conducted, fewer traffic accidents occur and less crime is committed during daylight evening hours.

"I think if we had a state budget deficit twice as large as what we have now, it would still not be anything compared to the debate over daylight-saving time. It really stirs people," said Indiana state Rep. David Crooks (D), who opposed the law.

But just when it seemed Indiana's nearly 40-year quarrel over its clocks was over, a new time issue has flared up. One of 12 states that fall into more than one time zone, Indiana is now consumed by a move by 19 of its 82 counties on Eastern time to switch and join its 10 counties on Central time.

Most of Indiana already experiences late sunrises and sunsets because more than three-quarters of the state lies in the far western part of the Eastern time zone. Pockets in the northwest (near Chicago) and southwest (Evansville, which is in close proximity to Kentucky) are carved into the Central time zone because of their close economic ties to those areas.

The promise of even more evening sun under DST proved too much for some of the westernmost counties, leading 19 to petition the U.S. Department of Transportation by a Sept. 16 deadline for a hearing to try to switch to Central time. Sullivan County, for example, wouldn't experience dusk until 9:50 p.m. on the first day of summer if it stays on Eastern daylight time; switching to Central daylight time would bring dusk at 8:50 p.m. -- the same time as without any government meddling with the clock.

Meanwhile, Gov. Mitch Daniels (R), who promoted the switch to DST during his campaign, is taking political hits for allowing counties to choose their own time zone.

Now that DST is a reality in Indiana, Crooks advocates a switch to the Central time zone in his southwest legislative district. He said he opposed the Indiana law because of constituent concerns.

"(My constituents) don't like the idea of 10 o'clock (p.m.) daylight in the summer," he said. "It seems unnatural to a lot of people. We'll accept daylight-saving time on one condition: that you put us in the correct time zone."

The Indiana Chamber of Commerce is lobbying hard in favor of Eastern time statewide because it makes the most economic sense, said Kevin Brinegar, president of the Chamber , which championed the daylight saving legislation.

"If you think of the world as 24 time zones, Indiana does far more importing and exporting with businesses, customers, and clients in the Eastern time zone than any of the other 23," he said.

A state falling into two time zones is hardly unusual. Idaho's panhandle, for example, is part of the Pacific time zone while the rest of the state and its capital, Boise, follow Mountain time.

Mike Maller, public information specialist for the Idaho Transportation Department , said he is unaware of any controversy in Idaho surrounding time zones. In fact, Idaho DOT employees synchronize their shifts -- 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the panhandle and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. elsewhere -- to accommodate the time difference.

"We tend to do what's practical," Maller said.

The time zone debate stems from Indiana's status as a holdout on DST since the Uniform Time Act of 1966 set standards. Now, further complicating matters, Congress passed a major energy bill in August that extends the time shift by a month -- a week in the fall and three weeks in the spring -- starting in 2007.

Studies, often cited by DST supporters, show people use less energy during that time.

"That's why daylight-saving time has been used throughout history -- through World War I, World War II and the energy crisis of the 1970s -- and why it's being lengthened now," said Dr. David Prerau , author of "Seize the Daylight" and advisor on the new federal energy bill.

By adopting DST, Indiana is poised to reap $617 million in energy savings per year, said Brinegar. But Crooks, the state legislator, contends the energy savings argument is trumped up. The data from federally commissioned studies are outdated, appliance efficiency has increased and people's consumption habits have changed, he said. And while people may use less artificial light, the additional evening sunlight may prompt them to run air conditioners longer, he said.

The new federal bill requires a new study to confirm the energy savings.

According to Brinegar, businesses in the state also will see a bevy of economic benefits by no longer aligning their clocks with Chicago in the summer and New York in the winter, an inconsistency that hampered workflow and led to lost productivity. Counties that elect Central daylight time will follow Chicago year-round and the rest will align with New York.

"It's hurt them in real dollars because businesses were deciding it was easier not to locate in Indiana or deal with Indiana," Prerau said.

Due to the adoption, and now extension, of DST in Indiana, opponents fear it will send their children to school in darkness. However, any increase in early morning bus stop accidents resulting from DST is more than compensated for by a decrease in evening accidents involving school children, Prerau said.