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The Journal Gazette

Sunday, December 02, 2018 1:00 am


Bus tragedy warrants a fresh look at time zones

No one wants to revisit Indiana's contentious debate over daylight saving time, but there's an unfinished discussion over the state's appropriate time-zone designation. It should begin in the General Assembly next month.

Sen. Eric Bassler, a Daviess County Republican, will file a bill to move all of Indiana to the Central Time Zone and another bill related to school bus safety. The two issues are connected by a deadly accident near Rochester on Oct. 30.

Alyssa Shepherd, 24, is charged with reckless homicide for failing to stop for a school bus.

Her pickup truck struck and killed Alivia Stahl, 9, and her 6-year-old twin brothers, Xzavier and Mason Ingle, as they crossed Indiana 25 in the predawn hours.

Whether you support the idea of changing time zones or not, it's a fact that the sun would have been up at 7:15 a.m. that morning if Indiana followed Central Time.

“Literally thousands of kids are standing on the side of the streets in the pitch dark waiting for a bus to pick them up,” Bassler told the Indianapolis Star. “If it were daylight, even sort of daylight, it would be more noticeable for drivers to see the kids as they approach and it's less likely there'd be some type of accident.”

Some of our readers agree. Dr. John L. Lutz, a Wolcottville resident and retired surgeon, argued in an oped published last week that Indiana's location makes it a poor fit for the Eastern Time Zone.

“It is impossible at our latitude to avoid school-related travel during dark hours in the morning for a short period of the school year, but Indiana's move to Eastern Daylight Time has extended this dangerous period for several extra weeks each school year, both before and after we change back to Standard Time,” Lutz wrote.

Much of Indiana followed Central Time until 1972, when the U.S. Department of Transportation, at the request of the General Assembly, enacted an awkward solution to the long-running time battle: Most of the state would follow Eastern time and ignore daylight saving time, while counties in northwest and southwest Indiana would follow Central Time and daylight saving time.

The uncomfortable compromise was in place until 2005, when the legislature – at the urging of Gov. Mitch Daniels – narrowly approved daylight saving time. As a candidate, Daniels had called for most of the state to be on Central Time, but the 2005 bill did not designate a time zone. Former State Rep. David Crooks, a Democrat from Daviess County, later pushed for a referendum to allow Hoosiers to choose which time zone the state would follow, but it was not approved. Legislative leaders seem to allow ballot questions only when they are certain of the outcome.

Bassler said he doesn't expect his time zone bill to pass, but he wants the discussion to advance.

The justification for moving to daylight saving time was to bolster the economy. While we might be worse off without the switch, the gap between Hoosiers' per capita income and the U.S. average actually grew from $4,486 to $6,671 between 2006 and 2015. Shouldn't the safety of Indiana schoolchildren be as good a reason to consider a return to Central Time?