Early School Days Mean More Car Crashes for Teens

The New York Times has reported that – perhaps not surprisingly – teens who sleep later have fewer car accidents. Adjacent counties in Virginia offered researchers a natural “lab” for their experiment on the relationship between teen sleep and driver safety. Chesterfield and Henrico counties were almost identical in terms of demographics and traffic congestion. But Henrico high schools start at 8:45 and Chesterfield schools start at 7:20.

The accident rate for drivers age 16 to 18 was 48.8 per thousand in 2009-10 in Chesterfield County, versus 37.8 in Henrico. In 2010-11, the rates were 51.9 per thousand in Chesterfield and 44.2 in Henrico. Interestingly, the crash rates for adults in the two counties were not significantly different and were between 13 and 14 per thousand – much lower than for teens in either location.

The study was published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, which concluded “Early high school start times (EHSST) may lead to sleep loss in adolescents (“teens”), thus resulting in higher crash rates.” Peak crash times were one hour earlier in the morning in Chesterfield, and two hours earlier in the afternoon, consistent with the teens’ commute hours. There were also significantly more “run-off-road” crashes to the right in Chesterfield – a pattern consistent with falling asleep at the wheel.

According to the President of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, when communities introduce later start times for high school, the rate of car accidents for teenage drivers drops 65 to 70 percent. He noted that in puberty there’s a natural shift in the body’s internal circadian clock, leading most teens to prefer a later bedtime. Thus, early start times for high schools force students to learn – and drive – when their bodies are telling them they should still be in bed. He said that a high school start time of 8:30 to 8:45 am was optimal.

Parents concerned about their teens’ safety may wish to drive them to school in the morning, provide other transportation, or work with local schools to adjust start times.

If your teen has been injured or killed in an accident, contact an experienced personal injury attorney at the New JerseyLaw Offices of Jeffrey S. Hasson, P.C. for help.