Massachusetts could benefit by shifting from the Eastern to the Atlantic Time Zone, but only if other New England states follow suit, according to a draft report issued Wednesday by a special study commission.
The 11-member panel, created by the Legislature last year, spent months examining the pros and cons of effectively establishing Daylight Savings Time year-round, which would eliminate the practice of setting clocks forward and back twice every year.
"Although there are appreciable costs associated with making this change, on balance the commission finds that doing so could have positive benefits...," the draft said.
State Sen. Eileen Donoghue, a Lowell Democrat who chaired the commission, conceded that a time shift isn't likely anytime soon, but was optimistic about the longer term prospects.
"If I had a crystal ball, I would hope that we together with the other New England states and New York and other states that see fit, would stop turning our clocks back and forth for no good reason," Donoghue said.
She asked members to submit comments on the draft, with a final vote slated for early November. The report will then be submitted to the Legislature.
Benefits of year-round daylight savings time could include energy savings, a boost for retail stores and less seasonal depression, proponents suggest.
The preliminary report acknowledges potential downsides as well. For example, if sunset is a later hour, sunrise would be an earlier hour, posing dangers for children walking to school or waiting for buses in the dark.
The report said any change would have to be accompanied by later start times for public schools, though no specific proposal was offered.
But the biggest stumbling block with a unilateral change to the Atlantic Time Zone by Massachusetts would be putting the state in sync with the Canadian maritime provinces and out of sync with its U.S. neighbors for several months a year, likely causing considerable confusion.
"We would never recommend that Massachusetts just go out and do it alone," said Donoghue.
The state should consider shifting only if a majority of other New England states also make the change, the report said. Lawmakers in Maine, New Hampshire and Rhode Island have considered similar proposals, also contingent upon regional consensus.
State Rep. Paul Frost, who has been among the commission's most skeptical members, said any change would require more than just New England cooperation.
"You can't do this without New York," said Frost, an Auburn Republican, citing disruptions in transportation and broadcast schedules that would result if New York operated in a different time zone than Boston."