Study Suggests that Later School Start Times Could Save Lives

Accident injuries are the leading cause of death for teenagers in California and around the country. Lawmakers and advocacy groups have been trying for years to lower the risks of driving for young people, but their efforts have borne little fruit. A study published recently in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine suggests that simply delaying the start of the school day could reduce accident rates among young people and save hundreds of lives each year.

The research team from Boston Children’s Hospital came to this conclusion after studying how moving the start of the school day from 7:20 a.m. to 8:10 a.m. impacted road safety in Fairfax County, Virginia. The researchers discovered that accidents among teenagers fell from 31.63 to 29.59 per 1,000 drivers after changing the school start time. The accident rate in other parts of Virginia remained unchanged where the earlier start time held. The results of the study were published online on Jan. 14.

These figures are likely to be welcomed by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, which has been lobbying for later school opening times for several years. The Illinois-based organization says that teenagers who get up early to go to school are more likely to indulge in risky behavior like not wearing seat belts or driving while distracted because their alarm clocks interfere with their biological sleep patterns and circadian rhythms.

Motor vehicle accidents involving young people can be caused by distraction and occur at high speeds. Road users injured in such a crash may feel that pursuing civil remedies is futile because young people do not have the resources to pay compensation, but that is not the case in California. In the Golden State, personal injury attorneys may file lawsuits against the parents of minors who act negligently and cause accidents. Attorneys are not required to establish willful intent in these lawsuits, and California does not place a cap on the amount of damages that parents might be ordered to pay.

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