Later school start times have been found to lower the number of car accidents involving teenage drivers. So says a recent study led by Dr. Judith Owens, MPH, a professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School and the director of the sleep medicine unit at Boston Children’s Hospital. The crash rate in the licensed driver participants, ages 16-18, dropped significantly from 31.63 to 29.59 accidents per every 1,000 drivers, after a later start time was implemented for high schools in Fairfax County, Virginia. The teens were studied for two years before the implementation of the later start times, and two years after. The crash rate in the rest of the state of Virginia, remained steady throughout this four-year period.
The lowered crash rate makes a lot of sense, because we’ve long known that the early morning school start times wreak havoc with teen sleep wake cycles that regulate teenage sleep. Teens need to get up at a later hour to have their best sleep. And when they have their best sleep, they do better in school. For this reason, no less an authority than the American Medical Association (AMA) recommended that schools implement later school start times.
Now we see this recommendation validated by the results of this new study. Waking up later not only helps teens do better in school, but keeps teen drivers safer, along with their passengers and other drivers on the road. So we get it: when teens get up a bit later, they get more sleep, which translates to improved functioning all around.
The question is: how do you get more schools to get on board with the idea? Even in Fairfax County, where the crash rate study was conducted, later start times meant only that school begins at 8:10, while the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) recommends that middle schools and high schools start their day 20 minutes later than that, at 8:30 AM. Does that extra 20 minutes matter?
It does if you’re a parent, wanting to keep your teenager safe. In which case, speak up. Make it known that you want later school start times not only for the academic benefits, but because later school start times save lives.