Can Later Start Times for School Improve Safety?May 28, 2020
A study published in the Journal of Clinical of Sleep Medicine suggests that later start times for school can improve safety for teen drivers. Based on this study, researchers at the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) recommend pushing middle and high school start times back to 8:30 a.m. or later.
According to the AASM, teenagers sleep and wake later, owing to changes in their circadian rhythms. They require more sleep than adults; the National Sleep Foundation reports that teens need approximately eight to 10 hours of sleep each night to function optimally. When they must rise early for school, teens are less likely to have enough sleep from the night before and will therefore be less alert while driving. They are also more likely to engage in distracting activities, such as attempting to eat, applying makeup, or using the phone, which can lead to car accidents.
Less Distracted Driving Accidents
Researchers in the study analyzed motor vehicle accident statistics involving teens in Fairfax County, Virginia. Their analysis encompassed two school years before and after a later school time was implemented. According to the study, the crash rate for 16 to 18-year-old drivers decreased from 31.63 to 29.59 accidents per 1,000 drivers for the county with later school start times, whereas it remained steady throughout the rest of the state.
During the fall of 2015, Fairfax County delayed school times by 50 minutes, from 7:20 a.m. to 8:10 a.m. When researchers compared Fairfax County’s data with other counties in the state where school times were not delayed, they found that it had a lower rate of distracted driving accidents. The study’s authors explain that teenagers who do not obtain enough sleep are more likely to engage in distracted driving, something to which teens are already particularly susceptible.
Teen Driver Crashes
Drivers aged 15 to 19 years old are at high risk when it comes to car accidents; motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teens in the U.S., according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cites inexperience as one of the main risk factors for teen drivers, in addition to speeding, alcohol use, and other factors. Owing to their inexperience, teens are more likely to underestimate dangerous situations and make decision errors that can lead to deadly accidents; drivers between the ages of 16 and 19 are almost three times more likely to be in a fatal crash than drivers aged 20 years and older.
Coupled with inexperience, lack of sleep is especially dangerous for young drivers. According to the NHTSA, 795 people were killed in drowsy driving accidents in 2017. The study’s authors suggest starting school at 8:30 a.m. or later to allow students to obtain more sleep at the optimal time, thereby improving their health, safety, and academic performance.
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