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Are you living in the wrong time zone?

Are you living in the wrong time zone?

Clock Time Alignment
Clock Time Alignment

Intro: Welcome to “Dumb Ideas that Changed the World.” The views expressed are solely those of the host and do not reflect the opinions of this station or its funders.

People used to set their watches by the sun. At high noon it was twelve p.m. The system worked until the latter 1800s, when railroads brought us high-speed transportation. Flying down the tracks at 80 miles-an-hour, we could now go from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia in just hours, not a full week by coach. But as our train pulled into Philly we’d notice our watches are now 20 minutes behind the local time. Oops.

In 1883 the railroads solved the problem with standard time zones: Eastern, Central, Mountain, and Pacific. Congress made standard time official in 1918, just before the advent of radio. Now folks were on time for their train, as well as their favorite radio shows. Standard time. What a great idea!

But then states started messing around, asking for exemptions so they could be in the same time zone as their favorite big city to the east. Instead of Central Time, Michigan switched to Eastern Time. West Texas didn’t want Mountain Time, so they talked Congress into letting them move to Central Time. The same thing happened all over the country, and today more than 50 million Americans live where clock time is disconnected from solar time.

No big deal? Yes big deal. These artificial time zones, in places like Marquette, Michigan and Lubbock, Texas, force people to rise before dawn for much of the year. Circadian science links artificial time to higher rates of stroke, heart disease, cancer, obesity, and dementia. It isn’t just about total hours of sleep, but when those hours take place in relation to the sun’s movement.

A recent study by Eastern New Mexico University found a 22 percent higher death rate on the roads in these eccentric time localities. Twenty-two percent. The best place to drive is on the west coast. Pacific Time has no misaligned counties, and their roads are the safest in the country.

Standard time is great if your community uses it. But for most of the year, clocks in Amarillo say twelve-noon when the sun is directly over Philadelphia.

I’m Jeff Gentry

Best reference:

Gentry, J.J., Evaniuck, J., Suriyamongkol, T, & Mali, I. (2022). Living in the wrong time zone: Elevated risk of traffic fatalities in eccentric time localities. Time and Society, 31(4), 457-479. DOI: 10.1177/0961463X221104675


Host of Dumb Ideas the Changed the World
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