Teen Car Accidents May Be Reduced with Later School Start Time, Says Study

A new study shows that starting the school day a little later may reduce the chances of teen car crashes, personal injuries, and death. A later school start time allows teens to sleep more in the morning, which, researchers say, leads to more alert driving.

By moving the beginning of classes at local high schools by 1 hour from 7:30 am to 8:30 am, researches saw a 16.5% drop in teen auto accident rates.

Psychologist Fred Danner, who coauthored the study, says adolescents are biologically programmed to stay awake an hour later every night. Danner says teens in general need 8-9 hours of sleep. If teens gets an hour less sleep during school nights, by the week’s end, they can be as impaired as if they had stayed awake for 24 hours in a row.

The study surveyed 10,000 kids, in grades 6 through 12, to determine sleep habits, auto accidents, and daytime functioning. Surveys were conducted twice. In 1998, when the school start time was at 7:30am and in 1999, when school would start at 8:30am. The study appears this week in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.

According to the National Sleep Foundation:

• Driver fatigue is the cause of 100,000 motor vehicle crashes each year.
• More than 50% of the drivers involved in these crashes are young drivers, ages 16 to 25.
• 85% of teenagers get less than 8 ½ hours of sleep each night.
• Drowsy driving after not having slept for 18 hours is the equivalent of drunk driving with a BAC of .08% or more.

• Not getting enough sleep can impair a person’s ability to make decisions, think clearly, and pay attention. It can also impair one’s reflexes.

A 2006 survey found that 51% of high school students have driven a motor vehicle when they were drowsy. Out of 262 college students that were surveyed, 17% of them admitted to falling asleep while driving.

Later School Start Time Cuts Teens’ Car Crash Risks, Washington Post, December 15, 2008

National Sleep Foundation

Related Web Resources:

Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine


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