A new study, published in the November 2014 issue of the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, suggests that loss of sleep during the school week may contribute to an increased drowsy driving risk for teens. The research indicates that teen drivers who have an earlier start to their school day are involved in a remarkably greater number of traffic accidents than those with a later school start time.
Data indicates that the rate of weekday crashes for high school aged drivers for the 2009-2010 school year was approximately 29 percent higher in Chesterfield County, Virginia where the high school day begins at 7:20 a.m., than in neighboring Henrico County where classes don’t start until 8:45 a.m. The 2010-2011 school year data showed nearly identical results for students in the two counties, while no differences in adult crash rates were discovered between the two counties for either year. A supplementary study found that the Chesterfield County students had a greater rate of run-off-road accidents which are congruent with drowsy driving crashes.
The study also used data supplied by the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, that reported over 520 car accidents involving teen drivers in Chesterfield County and just over 320 car accidents for teens in Henrico County during the two academic years evaluated.
Researchers say the data indicate that when school start times are too early, teens are being asked to rise and shine when their internal clocks are telling them to rest. Additionally, the results demonstrate the detrimental effects that lack of sleep can have on an adolescent’s ability to make good decisions and perform optimally in class.
Dangers of Drowsy Driving
Recent reports from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety estimates that drowsy driving may contribute to as many as 328,000 car accidents and 6,400 fatalities every year on U.S. roadways.
High levels of fatigue cause diminished productivity and performance, while increasing the risk of accidents. Those suffering from fatigue may suffer from lack of concentration, reduced hand-eye coordination, poor judgment, and slower reaction times.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) suggests that adolescents need a little more than nine hours of sleep every night for ideal health and daytime alertness during the important transition from childhood to adulthood. The AASM recommends that parents and school boards work together to adopt start times for high schoolers that allow teens to get a healthy amount of sleep and realize their greatest potential.
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