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Early School Start Times Endanger Teen Drivers, Study Finds

Filed in
  • Teens
  • School Start Times

American Academy of Sleep Medicine  |  Apr 21, 2011
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Teens as a group are notoriously bad drivers, with the highest annual accident and traffic violation rate of any age group in the United States. Parents have good reason to fear for the worst every time their child gets behind the wheel: auto accidents are the leading cause of death for America’s teens.

A recent study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine is directing some of the blame on schools for creating dangerous driving conditions for teens. The study found that accident rates are 41 percent higher when high school classes begin before 7:30 a.m.

The study compared teen accident rates at two demographically similar neighboring communities in southeast Virginia: Chesapeake and Virginia Beach.

Accident data from 2008 provided by the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles showed that there were 65.8 auto crashes for every 1,000 teen drivers in Virginia Beach compared to 46.6 for Chesapeake.

The only significant difference, according to the authors, was school start times. Classes started at 7:20 a.m. in Virginia Beach. Students in Chesapeake were able to sleep in an extra hour and twenty minutes because of the 8:40 a.m. start time.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine reports that the average teen needs more than nine hours of sleep per night. Falling asleep early can be difficult for teens because of natural night-owl tendencies and distractions such as smart phones and video games. As a result, teens often fail to get enough sleep and may drive to school with severe sleep deprivation.

Pushing forward start times for high school students will help them get more sleep, and as a result, make the roads safer. School districts across the United States have taken notice and have moved the opening high school bell to 8 a.m. or later.

Learn more about the sleep habits of teenagers.

Image by Carlos Lei