Starting School Late Reduces Car Crashes, Improves Teen Safety

Parents and teachers, please take note. Researchers have found that later school start times were associated with a significant drop in vehicle accidents involving teenage drivers.

For the study, published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, the research team analysed motor vehicle accident statistics involving adolescents in Fairfax County, Virginia, the US, for two school years before and after the implementation of later school start times.

The research showed 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.

“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,” said study senior author Judith Owens from Boston University in the US.

Teenagers who get more sleep are less likely to make poor decisions such as not wearing a seat belt or engaging in distracted driving,” explained Owens.

“One of the potential mechanisms for this reduction in car crashes is a decrease in behaviours that are related to risk-taking,” Owens added.

The study compared motor vehicle crash rates among adolescents in the differing school start times in Fairfax County, which in the fall of 2015 pushed back school start times by 50 minutes from 7:20 a.m. to 8:10 a.m.

Data also were compared to teenage crashes in the rest of the state, where school start times did not change.

The analysis also found that the later school start time was associated with a lower rate of distraction-related accidents.

According to the researchers, a delayed school start time offers several benefits, such as, students will be more alert to achieve peak classroom performance, there will be a greater likelihood that teens will get enough sleep on school nights, students will experience better mental health and psychological well-being and teen driving safety will improve

“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,” Owens said.

“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,” she added.