Crash risk for teens may decline if schools start later

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that middle and high schools start at 8:30 a.m. or later, the reason being that later start times give teens a chance to obtain sufficient sleep. Biological changes lead to teens sleeping late in the day, and if they do not get the sleep they need, they raise the risk for unsafe behaviors behind the wheel. West Virginia residents can see, then, how schools might impact car crash rates.

In neighboring Virginia, Fairfax County changed its school start times from 7:20 a.m. to 8:10 a.m. back in the fall of 2015. Researchers studied the teen car crash rate in this county in the year before the change and in the year after, and what they discovered was a decline. The first year saw a rate of 31.63 crashes involving 16- to 18-year-old licensed drivers per 1,000 drivers. In the second year, the rate was 29.59. Moreover, the other counties that did not change their school start times saw no comparable change in the two-year period.

Researchers noted that teens who can start school later are less likely to drive distracted. The AASM backs this up, saying that later start times improve not only road safety but also teens' performance in class and their mental health. There are fewer absences and less tardiness.

Regardless of their age, drivers who head out while drowsy are engaging in negligent driving. They will be held liable, then, for any crashes they cause in that drowsy state of mind. This is important to keep in mind for crash victims since they are required to prove the defendant's fault before filing a personal injury claim. It may be advisable to hire a lawyer for this and subsequent steps, especially the negotiation of a settlement with the insurance companies.

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