A new study found that later school start times were associated with a significant drop in vehicle accidents involving teen drivers.
Researchers analyzed motor vehicle accident statistics involving adolescents in Fairfax County, Virginia, for two school years before and after the implementation of later school start times. Results show that the crash rate in 16-to-18-year-old licensed drivers decreased significantly from 31.63 to 29.59 accidents per 1,000 drivers after the delayed start time. In contrast, the teen crash rate remained steady throughout the rest of the state.
“Accidental injuries including motor vehicle crashes are the number one cause of deaths of adolescents in the U.S., and anything we can do to mitigate that risk should be considered,” said senior study author Dr. Judith Owens, MPH, professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School and director of sleep medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital. “We know from independent data sources that after a change in school start times students get more sleep, which leads to multiple benefits, not just for individuals but also in terms of huge economic implications.”
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine supports middle and high school start times of 8:30 a.m. or later to promote teen health, safety and academic performance. The AASM’s school start time position statement is based on scientific evidence that teenagers experience changes to their internal circadian rhythms and biological sleep drive that result in later sleep and wake times.
“When schools start too early, students are being asked to wake up and function at a time when their circadian rhythm is telling them to stay asleep,” said Owens. “Changing school start times not only allows students to get more sleep but allows them to sleep at the optimal time. When they sleep may be equally important, if not more so, than how much sleep they get.”