Is your teenager getting enough sleep? If not, he or she could be in danger of an early morning collision, says a new report by Eastern Virginia Medical School professors. Using data from the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles, the study compares crash rates for teenage drivers from two towns: Virginia Beach and Chesapeake. In Virginia Beach, where high school classes begin at 7:20 am, the crash rate was 41 percent higher than Chesapeake, where classes begin at 8:40 am.
Clearly, there are a lot of variables not taken in to account. For example, Virginia Beach could have a higher general crash rate than Chesapeake. But this study is consistent with the findings of a similar 2008 article in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, which found a 16.5 percent decline in teen crashes in districts with schools that started an hour later than neighboring areas.
“This study did not prove by any means that early high school start times led to increased rates of car crashes,” said Robert Vorona, one of the study’s co-authors, noting that the crash increase is tied directly to tired drivers. So ostensibly, an easy fix is getting teenagers to sleep earlier so that they can have the important 8-9 hours of sleep each night. But with homework, mounting pressure to get in to college, and extra-curricular activities like drama or sports (not to mention relax time), teenagers aren’t likely to turn in before 11 (not to mention 10). With this in mind, Vorona said, “early high school start times are problematic.”
The study also raises the question: if driving early in the morning can be dangerous for teenagers, who’s to say that is a good time to be learning? Pushing school start times back an hour, the report says, can make students more alert in class, in addition to boosting road safety.
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