Time zones make life much easier and less confusing in a world where communication is instant and travel is quick. But setting the location of time zone boundaries has often been very contentious.
The Indiana General Assembly finally passed legislation putting all of the state on daylight saving time. Why state lawmakers didn’t make the change years ago will remain one of the major mysteries of the universe, along with why people act weird during a full moon and why that Scott guy has not been voted off American Idol yet.
But now that Indiana is set to start observing DST the focus shifts to the next contentious matter: Which time zone will the U.S. Department of Transportation put Indiana in? Since the 1960s the DOT has been in charge of setting and moving time zone boundaries.
Prior to the twentieth century, there were no uniform time zones. Time was determined locally, which started to lead to much confusion as people became more mobile with the expansion of the railroad. Then, in 1918, the U.S. and Canada set up a uniform time system and created standard time zones. The 48 contiguous states are scattered across four time zones.
Originally, the boundary between the Eastern and Central time zones went through Ohio, placing Indiana solidly on Central Time. But in 1972 after the time boundary was moved to the Illinois-Indiana border, Indiana stopped observing daylight saving time.
The decision was meant as a sort of compromise. Since most of the state was switching to Eastern Time, it was thought that if we also continued to observe daylight saving time in the summer, Indiana would effectively be on fast-fast time. (Fast time and slow time are archaic terms for daylight time and standard time, respectively.)
So now that we get to observe DST again, what time zone should Indiana be in?
Logically, the current time zone boundary works well enough. It probably should not be moved at all. That means the six-county region near Chicago and the five-county region near Evansville would remain on Central Time and the rest of the state would remain on Eastern Time. The only difference would be that all the state will now observe daylight saving time instead of just the Central Time counties.
However, many residents along the western edge of the state, such as in Terra Haute, would rather be on Central Time. The DOT, therefore, may redraw the line so that it cuts a slice through extreme western Indiana.
It would not be advisable to move all the state to Central Time. Doing so would mean we get no more daylight in the evenings during summer than we do presently, but it would get dark a lot earlier in the winter. In mid-winter, it would be dark through most of the rush hour.
Either way, though, observing daylight saving time means that Indiana gets to move its clocks in synch with the rest of the nation. That is good for many businesses, including the communications industry, the Post Office and other interstate delivery services, and the transportation industry.
It will also be far less confusing to visitors from surrounding states who never know what time it is in Indiana.
Finally, Indiana TV stations won’t have to tape delay network programming, meaning that live shows will be live here.
Although we pick up the slight inconvenience of having to re-set our clocks twice a year, the advantages far outweigh that slight drawback. And whatever time zone Indiana winds up in, it will be far superior to the Indiana non-standard time zone we’ve been stuck in for 30 years.